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Simple Health and Safety Tips for The Workplace

Under Australian law, both employers and workers are responsible for ensuring workplace health and safety. While some think of health and safety as troublesome and excessive red tape, it is in fact very important. Not only does it greatly reduce the rate of workplace accidents, including injuries and fatalities, it keeps businesses safe from frivolous litigation and encourages them to act responsibly towards their employees. Health and safety measures are most effective when they are being applied automatically. For this reason, it is a good idea to make sure that you and your colleagues are familiar with some general principles. You can discuss how to implement any necessary measures as a group. The exact nature of your health and safety plan will vary depending on where you work, but by familiarising yourself with the basic principles, you will be well equipped to put together your own plan in your workplace.

Slips and Falls

Some of the most common causes of workplace injuries are slipping, tripping, or falling. Many people underestimate the damage one can do to themselves falling even from a standing height. Fractures and breaks are possible, as is a collision with other objects, which can dramatically increase the severity of the injury.

The most important measure to prevent slipping is to ensure that any spills are promptly cleaned up and any hazards clearly marked by signs. Be aware of how to clean up different types of spills. For example, if one tries to use a mop and water to clean up oil or grease, they are more likely to end up spreading it around and exacerbating the hazard. Chemical spills should be dealt with only by individuals with the appropriate health and safety training. Alternatively, you can contact a specialised spill cleaning service. If hazardous chemicals are being handled, there should be a wash station set up nearby. One should always pay attention to the surface beneath them when handling any liquids, as certain materials will react differently with different liquids.

Tripping is most likely to occur in untidy conditions and is best avoided by ensuring that walkways and staircases are kept clear of any hazards. You should have an established process for disposing of any rubbish that accumulates throughout the day and for keeping any stock holding areas tidy to ensure that workers can cross them unimpeded. This is particularly important in the event of a fire alarm and it is absolutely vital that fire exits are not obstructed. Carpets can represent a tripping hazard if they become damaged or frayed and any damaged carpets should be replaced as soon as possible.

Wherever a fall from a height is possible, you should ensure that everyone has access to head protection and that there are guard rails or other forms of barrier between individuals and the drop. Also, bear in mind that it is the responsibility of employers and workers to keep members of the public away from any fall hazards.

The most common serious injuries from tripping and falling are concussions and broken bones. A crack or break in a bone is called a fracture and there are two kinds. Closed fractures remain under the skin, whereas an open fracture involves the broken bone piercing the skin. In either case, treatment is the same; contact the emergency services and immobilise the injured area. If there is bleeding, clean it with a sterile cloth and apply pressure. Ice packs can help relieve pain and limit swelling. If the victim takes any form of painkiller, be sure to inform paramedics when they arrive.

When someone falls and bangs their head, you should always have them checked by a healthcare professional, as even relatively minor knocks to the head can occasionally cause serious complications. The most common signs of a concussion are a headache or a feeling of pressure in the head, lapses of consciousness, confusion, and amnesia. Nausea and vomiting are also common. If you notice any of these symptoms after someone suffers a head injury, you should assume a concussion. Contact the emergency services and apply something cold to the injury to reduce swelling. If the victim requires pain relief, avoid NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen, as these can cause the blood to thin and exacerbate bleeding.

Fire Hazards

Fire is a real and serious danger and there is an alarming lack of understanding about how fire spreads and propagates. Fortunately, the threat of fire can be significantly mitigated by following simple safety procedures.

Ensure that combustible materials don’t build up and are only kept together in amounts. Be aware of what materials are being stored where and if you handle particularly flammable materials they should be kept away from other materials and ignition sources.

Ensure that any fire exits are kept clear and that any fire alarms can be accessed unobstructed. Also, make sure that fire doors are closed and not propped open during the day. They may be an inconvenience, but in the event of a fire, they will greatly impair its ability to spread and are designed to contain the fire until the emergency services arrive.

If you have a sprinkler system, be sure that the sprinklers are unobstructed. They should have a clearance of at least 18 inches from surfaces below; 24-36 is recommended.

Falling Objects

Whether you work on a building site or in a stock room with high shelves, falling objects are a potential hazard. On a building site or similar environment then head protection is already mandatory, but they are rarely seen in stock rooms.

Heavier objects should be stored on lower shelves to mitigate the possibility of them falling on to someone’s head. It should be noted that even from a small height a heavy object can cause serious damage to a foot or a leg.

Treating Injuries

Workplace injuries should always be recorded and reported to the relevant individuals within the company. All employees should be given training on aspects of health and safety relevant to their job and it is the employer’s duty to ensure this happens. Some companies offer training in CPR and other emergency treatments, which are very useful skills to have. If your company does not offer this, you can take a course on your own initiative through the National CPR Foundation.

Any suspected fractures should be referred to the emergency services while supportive care is given. For any accidents resulting in open wounds, they should be cleaned and treated with sterilised bandages or plasters as appropriate.

If an individual suffers non-chemical burns, run the affected area under water for at least 5 minutes and assess the severity of the burn. First degree burns only affect the outer layer of skin and does not require any medical attention. If there is significant blistering this means the burn has penetrated the top layer of skin and is a second-degree burn. This should be checked by a doctor but it is not an emergency so long as it does not cover a large area. Third and fourth-degree burns are the most serious kind and involve serious damage to the skin that penetrates all layers of the skin. These require urgent medical attention, so call the emergency services and follow any advice the operator relays to you.

Health and safety in the workplace are still sometimes treated with disregard or viewed as an inconvenience. This attitude contributes to an atmosphere where workplace accidents become more likely. Health and safety legislation exists to protect workers from corner cutting and employers from litigation. It is thus in everyone’s interest to ensure that all members of a corporation understand their health and safety obligations.