Simple steps for a safer, healthier workplace

ILO Expert in Occupational Safety and Health describes simple steps for a safer, healthier workplace on World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

Article | BANGKOK | 24 April 2007

By Tsuyoshi Kawakami, Expert in Occupational Safety and Health, International Labour Office

ILO BANGKOK: Work is something we all do; whether it’s as employees or managers, directing our own business, or working unpaid running a home. So April 28th, World Day for Safety and Health at Work, is a valuable reminder for us all and a great moment to consider how to improve our health and quality of life.

It’s estimated that about 2.2 million people worldwide die every year from work-related accidents and diseases. Annually, 270 million others suffer serious injuries and 160 million endure short or long term illness related to their work.

So, the benefits – economic, personal and social - of safer and healthier working environments are obvious. But there is also plenty of evidence that safer workplaces are more productive workplaces, with lower production costs and more positive atmospheres as well as fewer accidents and injuries. And the core principles that make a formal factory or office a better, safer and healthier place to work apply just as much to small businesses, houses and apartments.

As well as being cost effective occupational safety is also cheap and simple. So, here are 10 quick and easy ways to make your workplace safer and healthier:

1) Safety is everyone's business. If you see something wrong don’t leave it for someone else. Regular discussions between colleagues, managers and workers, are the key to good safety, so set up systems to exchange information, ideas and concerns and regular timetables for making checks. Small, day-to-day improvements are key to a safe and productive work environment.

2) Use your space well. Don’t muddle up areas for working, resting or storage. Keep passageways and working spaces clear and well lit. Clean drinking water and rest room facilities should be easily available.

3) Schedule a few minutes regularly to check your work area (a mobile phone alarm can be a reminder). Ideally you should work at elbow height in a natural posture that minimises bending, twisting or arm-raising. Frequently used items should be within easy reach.

4) Make sure any machines with dangerous moving parts have guards and that electric connections and wiring are safe. Equipment in the home can injure and kill as easily as that in a factory. Service and maintain your equipment regularly and check at least once a month to ensure no broken or unstable parts.

5) Think about your environment. It’s not just factory work that exposes you to hazards like dust, chemicals, noise and heat; offices and homes have them too. So maximise natural ventilation. Chemicals should be properly labeled and in a secure place. Keep the temperature comfortable, if heat or cold are a regular problem consider insulation.

6) Make sure adequate clothing and protective equipment are available - goggles, shoes, gloves, helmets, etc. First aid kits are important, as is training people in how to use them.

7) Use (well-maintained) labour-saving equipment for lifting or moving heavy and awkward things, or performing regular tasks.

8) Add variety to what you or your employees do. Monotony and boredom are the enemies of quality and productivity as well as safety. Making work more interesting will also help to develop new skills.

9) Some of your colleagues may need special care to do their best; consider the needs of pregnant women, people with disabilities, migrant or foreign workers, the elderly.

10) Finally…don’t forget to take a break. Regular short rests help to keep productivity and work quality high and accident levels low. Longer term, don’t think of regular days off and vacations as a luxury, they help to avoid burn out, fatigue and exhaustion.

This year’s World Day has the theme, “Safe and healthy workplaces – making decent work a reality.” In essence, decent work (which is at the heart of the International Labour Organization’s agenda) draws attention to the fact that it’s not only having enough work that is important, the quality of that work is an issue too. It’s easy to see that safety and health is a basic part of decent, quality work. So, creating a safety culture that lasts 365 days a year – not just one – is in all our interests.