Ehstoday 3266 June2012offthejobsafety 0

Recognizing Hazards Both On and Off the Job

June 18, 2012
The threat of danger surrounds every person, every day. Challenging employees to look beyond tasks to identify and eliminate hazards before exposure is key to working safely at home and in the workplace.

The expression “hindsight is 20/20” sums up the understanding people gain after an unwanted event occurs. But how can people “see” the outcome of an event before it happens, especially when it comes to safely performing tasks in the home or workplace?

One way employers can protect the investments made in human resources is to strengthen the hazard perception skills of their employees. Training employees to recognize existing and potential hazards and developing safe work habits that are consistently reinforced can help employees become aware of their actions and work safely – whether they’re at home or in the workplace.

Based on data collected by the Ambulatory and Hospital Care Statistics Branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most unintentional injuries experienced by the 28.3 million people who visited emergency departments in 2008 were caused by falls; motor vehicle traffic; being struck by objects or persons; cutting or piercing instruments or objects; and overexertion and strenuous movements. Since these injuries are similar to the top occupational safety and health hazards faced in the workplace, challenging employees to look beyond the task at hand in order to identify and eliminate the hazards is a necessary skill for safety on and off the job.

Challenge #1: Guard Against Falls

For many employees, roof maintenance and repair, cleaning windows and gutters and performing other work at elevated heights are a part of home projects. However, employees may not always stop to think about the dangers associated with working at heights. Encouraging employees to take notice of small details such as open-sided working platforms, floor holes and ladder length, weight capacity and setup are critical perception skills that can help prevent fall-related injuries. Since slips, trips and falls also occur on the same walking level, developing an awareness of objects in the path of travel can help prevent a fall.

Encourage employees to look for the following hazards:

Open sides and edges. Open-sided floors or platforms should have railings and toeboards along each exposed side. This not only protects the person on the platform, but also those who pass beneath the open sides. Falling tools, equipment or materials can cause serious injuries.

Floor holes. An opening measuring less than 12 inches but more than 1 inch in its least dimension in any floor, platform or pavement can enable materials to fall to a lower level, potentially causing injuries. Larger holes, which people accidentally can walk through, pose significant risks. Employees should ensure that floor holes are securely covered and that the cover will support twice the weight applied.

Improper ladder use. There are several types of ladders used in the home, including straight, extension, step and platform ladders. Since ladders are available in different lengths and weight capacities, select the right ladder for the job by checking the manufacturer’s label for the highest standing level permitted and the duty rating. Also, employees should be aware of proper maintenance and use, especially the simple rule for setting up a ladder at the proper angle – the 4:1 Rule. For every 4 feet up, the ladder should be 1 foot out from the wall.

Objects in the path of travel. The situations that may cause slips, trips and falls often are obvious, but ignored. Employees should make sure that clutter, electrical cords, loose carpeting or flooring and other objects are removed from the path of travel. Wet spots, grease or ice should be addressed immediately to prevent slip, trip and fall hazards.

Challenge #2: Promote Safe Driving

Statistics show that in 2009, more than 5,400 people died in crashes linked to distraction, and thousands more were injured. The most alarming hazard is texting while driving since it requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver. To date, 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Guam have banned text messaging for all drivers. Other types of distractions of which employees should be aware include:

➤ Using a cell phone or smartphone.

➤ Eating and drinking.

➤ Talking to passengers.

➤ Grooming.

➤ Reading (e.g., maps).

➤ Using a navigation system.

➤ Watching videos.

➤ Adjusting a radio or MP3 player.

Turning the cell phone off or creating a message for times of travel is a good (and safe) habit to adopt.

Challenge #3: Beware of Struck-By Hazards

It may seem obvious that a struck-by hazard exists when something has been ejected under power, dropped from an elevation to a lower level or lifted in windy conditions. However, these hazards can present themselves in unique ways:

Flying objects. Flying objects can occur when a piece of material separates from a tool, machine or other equipment and strikes a person, resulting in injuries or fatalities. A hazard also exists if an object is ejected under power by a tool or equipment usually designed for that purpose, such as a nail from a nail gun. Powder-actuated tools are particularly hazardous due to the force behind the release. Using compressed air to power tools or clean surfaces also can cause flying object hazards.

Falling objects. Objects or equipment that fall from an elevation to a lower level can result in injuries or fatalities. Employees should be aware of the distance between tools and equipment and the unprotected sides and edges of elevated work platforms and prevent others from walking or working below.

Swinging objects. As materials such as roofing shingles, wallboard and wood panels are lifted to an elevated work height, they may swing, twist or turn. This swinging material may catch employees by surprise and strike them, especially in windy conditions. Encourage employees always to be aware of their location in relation to the material can help avoid this type of struck-by injury.

Challenge #4: Proper Tool Use and Maintenance

Tools make small tasks easier and large tasks possible, but they often are taken for granted. Whether it is a simple hand tool or more complex power tool, all tools can pose a hazard when used at home or in the workplace.

Hand tools. Make sure that employees know to look at the shape and design of the tool to ensure the right tool is being used for the job. Dull or damaged tools should not be used since they can slip, break or bend and therefore cause injuries.

Power tools. These are extremely hazardous if used incorrectly, and as such, should be fitted with guards and safety switches. Of course, employees should understand the proper use of any power tool, including the lawn mower, and should wear appropriate personal protective equipment when those tools are used.

Challenge #5: Use Safe Lifting Techniques

Tasks that put stress on the body such as overuse of muscles, unnatural postures and repetitive motions can lead to severe strains, sprains or tissue inflammation. Ensure employees are trained in and follow lifting techniques when performing any lifting activity. These techniques include:

Size up the load before lifting. Perform a test by lifting or pushing a corner of the object. If it feels too heavy or clumsy, get help from another person.

Bend the knees. Bending the knees is the single most important aspect of any lifting activity. During any lift, the leg muscles should do most of the work and absorb most of the stress.

Lift straight up. When lifting an object, your feet should be as close to the object as possible. The body should be centered over the load and then, while bending at the knees and getting a firm handhold, the lift should be done as one smooth and straight-up motion.

Avoid twisting. Once the object has been lifted, keep the load close to the body. Twisting or turning while lifting is a leading cause of disk injuries.

Have a clear path. The path of travel should be clear of any obstacles as well as other slip, trip or fall hazards.

The Bottom Line

Whether an injury occurs in the home or workplace, the indirect costs of an accident – lost productivity, low morale and absenteeism – are the same for employers and employees. Challenging employees to look beyond tasks to identify and eliminate hazards before exposure is key to working safely, whether at home or in the workplace.

Stefanie Williams is an associate editor with J. J. Keller & Associates Inc. in Neenah, Wis. Contact her at [email protected]. For more information about J. J. Keller & Associates, visit

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