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Most Common Workplace Safety Hazards

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

Our facilities harbor many dangers. Below are ten of the most common hazardous areas and how to spot them.

Ladder hazards:

Used throughout plants and warehouses, 8 percent of all occupational fatalities are due to falls from ladders. Ladders slip, tip, slide and break. While human error causes most ladder falls, steps can be taken to minimize injuries.

  • Is the ladder resting on an uneven surface?
  • Is the work area crowded?
  • What obstructions are in the path of the climb?
  • Check the weight the ladder can support
  • Know the difference between a step ladder, a single ladder and an extension ladder and the appropriate applications of each 

Scaffolding hazards:

Scaffolding violations and accidents are commonly linked to planks giving way, employee falls and tumbling objects. An estimated 65 percent of the construction industry work on scaffolds.  Protecting workers from scaffold-related accidents would prevent 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths every year, at a savings for American employers of $90 million workdays saved.

Scaffolds must be:

  • Safely secured and  supported
  • Level
  • Provided with safe access such as ladders and guard rails
  • Adequately decked

Fall protection:

Fall protection violations occur whenever a person is 4 feet above the ground without proper safety measures. Fall protection must be provided at four feet in general industry, five feet in maritime and six feet in construction.

  • Take fall prevention and protection training courses
  • Identify situations when you should not work off the ground
  • Review and test  harnesses, connectors, ropes, anchors, lanyards and pulleys

Powered industrial truck hazards:

Many employees are injured by driving powered industrial trucks off loading docks, into ditches or by being struck. Most employee injuries and property damage can be linked to unsafe operating procedures, lack of safety rule enforcement, and inadequate  training.

  • Successfully complete training and evaluation specified in the OSHA standard
  • Master safe load manipulation, stacking and un-stacking
  • Practice operating powered industrial trucks on ramps and sloped surfaces
  • Don’t operate in closed environments where poor ventilation could cause carbon monoxide or diesel  exhaust build up

Respiratory protection:

Respirators help protect welders and others against unhealthy breathing environments caused by insufficient oxygen, dust, vapors,  gasses, fiberglass and more. These hazards may  cause cancer, lung impairment, other diseases, or death. An estimated 5 million workers are required to wear respirators in 1.3 million workplaces throughout the US.

  • Ensure that the respirator fits properly
  • Ensure that hazardous air is sealed out
  • Properly clean, store and maintain respirators

Electrical Wiring Methods:

Electrical hazards are present for those who  work directly and also indirectly with or near dangerous electrical lines.

  • Understand the NEC wiring  method requirements
  • Learn the specific  requirements for installing a variety of cables, raceways, outlet boxes, junction boxes and other enclosures

Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout):

LO/TO refers  to specific practices and procedures to safeguard employees from the unexpected energization or startup of machinery and equipment, or the release of hazardous  energy during service or maintenance activities. Approximately 3 million workers service equipment and face the greatest risk of injury if LO/TO is not  properly implemented.  

  • Know what types of machines and equipment in your facility are impacted by LO/TO
  • Clarify the roles of the “affected” and “authorized” employees
  • Properly apply all LO/TO devices and labels including valve tags, padlocks, hasps, steering wheel covers, cable lockouts and lock boxes

Machine Guarding:

Any machine part, function or process that may cause injury must be labeled and safeguarded. Moving machine parts may cause severe workplace injuries, such as crushed fingers,  amputations, burns, or blindness.

  • Guards should not be fastened to moving parts or positioned near moving parts in a manner that creates a pinch point
  • Guarding systems must prevent access to the hazardous area by reaching over, under, around or through the guarding system

Electrical systems design:

Working  with electricity is dangerous – particularly areas subject to arc flash. Engineers and electricians work with electricity directly, including overhead lines, cable harnesses, and circuit assemblies.

  • Stay away from  equipment that presents an arc flash danger. Arc flashes are a rapid, explosive discharge of electrical energy resulting from a short circuit fault. An arc flash can occur in as little as 1/1000 of a second. They are unexpected, violent and deadly.
  • Arc flash labels also inform workers about needing personal  protection equipment (PPE) should they need to work on or near equipment that presents an arc flash hazard.
  • Identify the correct extinguisher to use on flammable liquid fires and on energized electrical equipment fires.
  • Check NFPA 70E standards for arc flash.

Chemical hazards:

Dangerous chemicals are used throughout the industrial landscape. Chemical manufacturers  and importers are required to evaluate the hazards of the chemicals they  produce or import and prepare labels and safety data sheets to convey the  hazard information to their downstream customers. Pipe marking labels help identify these chemicals and the direction  they are flowing. To ensure chemical safety in the workplace companies should:

  • Develop and  maintain a written hazard communication program for the workplace and include  lists of hazardous chemicals present
  • Either  NFPA diamond or color bar labels can be used to provide Right to Know (RTK)  information. NFPA diamond labels are primarily used to inform emergency  responders about hazards, but they can do double duty.

Conduct A Safety Risk Assessment

We're so used to our work environment that we often take safety for granted. That's a mistake.

Before getting started, ask people to share their worries in a non-threatening forum. Switch jobs for a new perspective. Consider having management perform tasks normally handled by workers on the factory floor. This can be humbling. Or consider an outside, objective view of the workplace - before it's too late.

Discuss what can be changed immediately and long-term to improve safety. Estimate costs for making changes. Remember, there's more than a monetary cost to losing people. Start scheduling changes based on the priorities everyone agreed on.

Need help putting a Safety Hazard Plan together? Graphic Products can provide on-site, in-person Safety Assessment Services for you!