For some of us, the modern workplace is like a second home, where most of our waking hours are spent. Whether you have a cushy office job or a physically demanding one, the more time you spend at work, the more likely it becomes that you may succumb to an unexpected workplace accident or medical emergency. Worse still, you could even lose your life. We look at the ten most common types of workplace injuries — and how to avoid them.
Workplace accidents image from Shutterstock
Australian work health and safety policy maker, Safe Work Australia estimates that 63 Australian workers were killed on the job in the first five months of 2016. While many of these fatalities occurred in high-risk industries, such as construction and agriculture, no industry is without workplace hazards. For this reason, Australia has extensive legislation in place to ensure that employers create a safe working environment for their employees. But no matter how closely companies adhere to this legislation, there is still a chance that workplace accidents will occur.
While accidents can’t always be prevented, their impact can be minimised by equipping your workplace with some basic first aid items and providing your staff with some fundamental first aid training and knowledge. To help you prevent or prepare for workplace injury, the following list explains the ten most common workplace accidents, and how to respond to them.
#1 Fatigue & Strain
On Australian roads, drivers are encouraged to Stop, Revive, Survive. The same principle applies at work. It’s very important that employees take regular breaks and do not overexert themselves. Any work that requires physical activity is especially prone to fatigue-related injuries and accidents. Pulling, lifting throwing, holding and carrying can all result in overexertion. While prevention is the best cure of all, it’s advisable to have pain-relieving sprays in your workplace first aid box, for those instances when employees overdo it.
#2 Lower Back Pain
According to a 2014 study led by the University of Sydney, work-related lower back pain accounts for a third of all work-related disability worldwide. The study showed that back pain is the leading cause of work loss days in Australia, with 25 per cent of sufferers in the 18-44 age group taking 10 or more days off per year, and costing Australia around $4.8 billion each year for health care. That’s one expensive injury. Ergonomic training and equipment is the best preventative measure that employers can take to minimise the incidence of lower back pain in their workplaces. To treat serious inflammation and back pain symptoms at work, ensure that your office first aid kit is equipped with an ice pack. It won’t cure the problem, but it will alleviate the symptoms.
#3 Workplace Trips and Falls
Wet floors and cluttered floor space are major causes of workplace injury. To minimise harm caused by workplace trips and falls, erect signage to warn of spills and wet floors, and clear or cover any exposed cords, cables and objects that might create an obstacle course for your employees. For the bruises, cuts and abrasions that often occur when people slip or trip at work, make sure that your first aid kit contains an icepack and a healthy supply of bandages and Band-Aids.
#4 Falling From Heights
Working at any height is inherently dangerous. Whether you are on a ladder, scaffolding or any other elevated surface, there’s always a chance – due to faulty equipment, uneven ground, or unsteady balance - that you could fall and hurt yourself. The best way to avoid this is to check equipment carefully and make sure that you are working on even ground. Falls can result in a range of injuries – breaks and fractures are among the most common. If there’s an open wound, you may need broad bandages from your first aid box to curb the bleeding.
#5 Unidentified Falling Objects
When shelves and storage facilities are not securely packed, loose objects can fall, injuring the unsuspecting employees below. To avoid such incidents, all stock, stationery and archives should be properly arranged at all times. Storerooms and shelving should not be over packed and, if possible, designate separate storage areas to limit employee exposure to potential harm. In the worst case scenario that a falling object strikes an employee and leaves them concussed, this first aid fact sheet outlines some emergency measures that can help minimise harm to the worker.
#6 Repetitive Motion Injuries
As workplaces become more and more computer-oriented, the repeated, excessive use of computers can lead to eyestrain, bodily pain and cumulative trauma disorder. Three effective strategies that can reduce these health risks include:
- Proper ergonomic training and equipment
- Regular breaks for stretching muscles and resting eyes
- Job rotation
For minor symptoms, it’s advisable to have eye drops and muscle sprays available at the office. More serious conditions may require medical assistance.
#7 Sprains and Strains
Bodily reaction injuries are caused when a slip or trip leaves the victim with a muscular sprain or body trauma. These injuries can be avoided by de-cluttering the workspace, marking slippery areas with cautionary signage, and placing non-slip rugs and mats near entrances and exits. Minor sprains can be treated with painkillers and medicated pain relief sprays from the office first aid kit.
#8 Machine Entanglement
Machine entanglement is a common hazard in workplaces where heavy machinery and equipment are used. Loose clothing, jewelry, fingers and unbound hair often get caught in machines, causing a range of injuries, including cuts, amputations and sometimes death. As a countermeasure, workers should wear protective gloves and machines should have protective barriers and guards where applicable. In cases where significant bleeding occurs, it’s important to have appropriate first aid bandages on hand, to curb blood loss.
#9 Workplace Violence & Assault
This one is certainly not at the top of the frequent workplace injury list, but it does sometimes happen. Workplace aggression can indeed escalate into violent incidents, causing serious physical injuries. Every workplace should have sound conflict resolution strategies in place to prevent or diffuse these volatile situations.
#10 Stress & Mental Health
Mental illness is one of the most commonly overlooked workplace injuries, because it’s not always outwardly visible. The demands of the workplace can be very stressful, leading to anxiety, depression and other mental challenges. Whether pre-existing or on-the-job, mental illness is more prevalent than many realise.
ABS estimates suggest that 45 per cent of Australians aged between 16 and 85 will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, while one in five Australian adults will experience mental illness in any given year. Here are a few handy tips from the Australian Human Rights Commission to help employers manage the sensitive business of mental illness at work.
Given the long hours that many of us spend in the workplace, it’s critical that our work environments are as safe and healthy as possible. This list of workplace accidents and injuries is by no means exhaustive.
How safe do you feel at work? Have you suffered from any of these injuries or illnesses on the job? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Sara is the marketing strategist of Survival First Aid Kits.