It is easy to guard against obvious hazards. The trouble is that we are surrounded by hidden dangers that are usually difficult to spot and often even harder to predict. This is especially true of risks related to hazards we have all come to assimilate as normal into our daily lives. Unfortunately, such hazards can and often do lead to injuries, and must be considered if a business is to truly implement a comprehensive, holistic health and safety plan as well as promote an active safety culture.
What can be more common and normal in an office environment than a woman’s high-heeled shoe? Many women and managers consider high-heels to be the finishing touch on a professional look, in fact a requirement for wearing high-heeled shoes is often written into office dress codes. However, as a hidden danger, high heels should not be underestimated. Wearing high-heeled shoes may lead to long-term damage to the Achilles’ tendon. The tendon becomes thicker and stiffer, comprising of shorter muscle fibres compared to women who wear flat shoes. Long-term, this stiffening of the Achille’s tendon can lead to chronic pain and make it difficult to walk. In terms of the health and safety of the office workers, business policies should be reviewed to reconsider the requirement for high-heeled shoes as mandatory for everyday wear in the dress code. A policy could also be included in the health and safety plan that encourages women to alternate high-heels with flat shoes, or to only wear high-heels for important meetings or events.
Even less obvious a hazard than high heels, is the overuse of overtime, leading to fatigued employees on the job. Workloads have increased dramatically in recent years, especially where companies are trying to streamline their workforce and trying to “do more with less.” This has led to the expectation “willing to work overtime” becoming practically a standard requirement of any job. However, studies have shown that employees who regularly put in workdays of 10 hours or more, are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease than those with a standard workday. In a more immediate sense, employees that work too much overtime become fatigued, and fatigue decreases safety performance in all areas. Every year, billions are lost due to decreased productivity and injuries related to fatigue. The risk of injury is pronounced among employees who work more than forty hours a week and should be a special concern with employees who are required to drive as part of their normal duties. Health and safety policy should, in conjunction with human resources, place a limit on the number of overtime hours allowed per day, as well as overtime worked consecutively. Employees should also be informed and where necessary trained in the importance of getting enough rest.
The most common hidden danger in any work environment be it office or workshop, is falling, with thousands of injuries reported annually due to trips, slips and falls. Falls can usually be easily avoided by minimizing potential trip hazards, including:
- Do not allow office workers to stand on desks or rolling chairs to reach a high storage area. Make sure stepladders are available if required.
- Make sure that wet floors have clear signage and are dried as quickly as possible.
- Fix any leaks dripping or running on floors.
- Inspect the flooring for any trip hazards, including bunched up or torn carpeting.
- Secure wires or cords running on the ground.
- Remind staff to never leave drawers or cabinet doors open.
- Keep the office clutter-free.
The best way to prevent falls is to involve the staff working in the environment to report any trip hazards as soon as they become aware of them. An innocuous object or situation may easily be missed as a possible trip hazard on first inspection, and only through moving in the space become obvious. With the help of the staff these can be better identified and secured.
When it comes to securing the workplace against hidden hazards, a positive safety culture in which both the employer and employees take joint ownership of the well-being of each other is paramount. Read more on Creating a safety culture at work.
“Good relationships are important for safety. Positive Safety Cultures are characterised by good relationships across all levels that are open to honest conversations about safety concerns and suggestions.”