When you think of dangerous jobs, a few roles might come to mind. Soldiers, police officers, firefighters, mountain guides, deep-sea fisherman, lumberjacks, and miners all face serious risks on a daily basis. However, occupational hazards arenít limited to jobs that are obviously dangerous. From manual labor to desk jobs, here are some of the most common occupational hazards that affect people in a variety of workplaces along with strategies for protecting yourself.
Jobs that require heavy lifting ó even just occasionally ó present a number of risks to your health. The fact that a heavy object might be dropped or fall from a storage area puts you at risk of being crushed. Even without these accidents, improper lifting techniques can cause serious damage to your body, including muscle strains, ligament sprains, spinal injuries, and hernias.
Those who perform manual labor often as part of their job often go through some kind of training to ensure they donít hurt themselves when moving heavy objects. However, in a fast-paced work environment, it can be easy to disregard these in order to seemingly work more efficiently. Thereís also the chance that, because youíve been able to handle your job without proper lifting so far, youíll continue to avoid an accident or injury. Then it happens, and youíre in pain and out of work.
If moving heavy objects isnít a main requirement of your job, you might think you donít have to worry about proper lifting techniques. Yet, even in an office environment, you may need to move a box of paper, adjust the placement of your desk, or carry large stacks of files. While these may not be the heaviest objects, you can still hurt yourself if youíre improperly lifting them.
Here are the basics of proper lifting techniques:
Determine whether you can safely lift the object by yourself, considering how high and far youíll need to carry it. Rather than overexerting, seek the proper tool like a handcart or ask for assistance from someone else.
Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
Keep your back straight and tuck your chin so your head and neck are aligned with your back.
Grip the object with your entire hand ó not just your fingers.
Draw the object close to your body so the weight of the object and your body will be centered.
Straighten your legs and rely on those muscles to lift the weight rather than your back muscles.
Avoid leaning too far forward to pick things up, and never twist your back when lifting. If you need to turn while holding a heavy object, turn your entire body, feet first.
To avoid tripping or running into other objects or people, never carry something that blocks your vision.
Maintain a straight back alignment as you set down the object, still relying on your leg muscles to do the work.
Lifting injuries are all too common in many professions, and the effects can be painful, life-altering, and lasting. Take your time and use caution when lifting and moving even moderately heavy objects.
Hazardous Chemicals and Materials
Some jobs may require you to work with potentially harmful materials on a regular basis. For example, if your job involves cleaning, youíre probably already aware of how harsh some detergents and other chemicals can be. Chlorine bleach and ammonia are two of the most common chemicals in cleaning products. On their own, either one can irritate your skin, eyes, throat, and lungs. If combined, these will produce a harmful gas that can cause headaches, nausea, breathing problems, and seizures.
As a general rule, you should never mix cleaning products in order to avoid creating dangerous chemical reactions, although itís possible to do so accidentally. Perhaps after using a detergent designed to clean a toilet bowl, you add bleach for good measure. Even if the original detergent seems to have washed away, this could create a dangerous situation.
Another common material that can harm people in many occupations is asbestos. Because it is a durable, fire-resistant material, it has been widely used for roofing, flooring, and insulation. Unfortunately, tiny asbestos fibers can travel through the air, and if a person inhales these fibers, they may develop a form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma.
Some of the people most at risk for asbestos exposure include construction workers, mechanics, maintenance employees, plumbers, and electricians. However, anyone who works in an older building could be exposed to asbestos dust from old insulation, floor tiles, or other structures without being aware. Itís worth noting that you are less likely to develop asbestos-related diseases if you donít come into contact with asbestos fibers on a regular basis over a long period of time.
If you work with harmful chemicals or materials, itís worth doing some research into the best ways to protect yourself within your specific role. Often, you can find safety practices and protective gear that will help protect you from serious long-term damage. Just because youíre tough, doesnít mean you should put your health at risk unnecessarily.
Less Obvious Hazards
Many jobs require sitting at a desk for long periods of time. While that might not seem dangerous, sitting all day can cause posture problems that may lead to chronic pain in your neck, shoulders, back, and hips. Prolonged sitting can also increase your risk for developing diabetes, heart problems, and depression.
While standing desks help alleviate some of these effects, standing for most of the day carries its own problems. In particular, standing for too long places additional strain on your circulatory system, which can increase your risk for developing conditions like varicose veins and carotid atherosclerosis. This also affects people who work in industries like food service and construction.
The key to solving the dilemma between standing and sitting is to find a healthy balance of each. If you have a desk job, try to take breaks from sitting every 20 minutes or so. Walking around for just a few minutes can offset the negative effects on your circulatory system. If your job requires standing all day, try to take regular breaks and put your feet up to aid circulation.
Most of what Iíve discussed so far centers on physical risks, but your mental health is equally important in the workplace. Any number of situations could arise that might lead to fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and other feelings that can make you unhappy and distract you from doing a good job. If your work life is miserable, thereís a good chance those feelings will spill over into your personal life as well.
Mental health issues could arise because of the nature of your work, the physical environment of your workspace, or the people you work with. If someone is insulting, threatening, humiliating, or otherwise harassing you, itís important to take action to defend yourself from that behavior. However, you should never fight harassment with similar behavior.
Instead, calmly and confidently confront the individual and let them know that the way they are treating you is not appropriate for the workplace. If this isnít helpful or you donít feel comfortable, seek the proper channels to report and prevent further harassment. This might involve a manager or a human resource professional. If you let harassment in the workplace go unchecked, itís only going to keep happening to you.
Any job will have some stress associated with it. However, even if you generally enjoy your work, you may be headed for burnout at work. You may need to make some drastic changes if any of the following are true:
Youíre constantly worried about work-related situations, even at home.
You have trouble sleeping on a regular basis because of work matters.
You dream a lot about work.
You have panic attacks, feel sick to your stomach, or experience headaches when thinking about work.
You work night and day without a healthy work-life balance.
Youíre taking a lot of sick days.
You often have negative thoughts and begin to believe you are terrible at your job.
If the issues bothering you donít appear to be solvable, you might consider negotiating a change in your role within a business. If this isnít possible, you might look for another job within your industry. In more extreme cases, you may even need to look for something completely unrelated to your current field in order to be happy. Itís important to be honest with yourself and how your workplace makes you feel rather than suffering through a job you donít enjoy day after day.
Hopefully your employer provides the training and resources you need to stay safe on the job. Itís up to you to properly use that knowledge and those resources when the situation demands it. If you feel unsafe in your workplace, speak up to your coworkers or someone in management. They may be able to help you find a solution. Itís always better to address and prepare for occupational hazards before something bad happens.