7 Hidden Health Risks of Industrial Work and How to Manage Them

Monday, November 11, 2019

If you're managing workers in a warehouse, or on a job site, you know how accidents can sneak up if employees aren’t careful. From slips, trips and falls, machinery malfunctions, electrical dangers and more.

Article 6 Minutes
7 Hidden Health Risks of Industrial Work and How to Manage Them

But there are other dangers you might not even think about. From repetitive stress disorders, sleep deprivation, or poor maintenance, there are many invisible dangers on the job. But with the right safety plans, and the right team behind you, they can keep working in a productive environment, safe from both the obvious and the invisible dangers.

1. Dehydration

This might be one of the most common yet most neglected causes of health problems: workers not drinking enough water.

Dust, bad ventilation, humidity, dryness or extreme temperatures are all quite “normal” circumstances for industrial workplaces. When employees wear PPE while doing hard labor under strict deadlines, dehydration can creep up. This can result in lack of concentration (which in itself might lead to accidents), loss of strength, confusion and losing consciousness.

Make sure fresh, cool water is readily available, and motivate your team to drink water before they feel thirsty. It sounds like such a minor aspect of work safety, but once you start paying attention you’ll notice how keeping hydrated maintains your crew’s wellness and productivity.

2. Invisible wear and tear of material on the job site

Regular inspection and maintenance of tools and workplace surroundings are usual part of protocol. But in a lot of cases this is limited to visual inspection, which is not always sufficient. Especially when it comes to equipment that’s subjected to extreme conditions, such as high pressure, extreme temperatures and heavy loads.

Damage can start from the inside out, and not become apparent from a quick look and touch. It can be deeply hidden within areas that aren’t easily accessible. To ensure worker safety, employees should be familiar with a type of inspection that will reach these areas without losing integrity of equipment and material, called non-destructive testing (NDT). Some examples of NDT are ultrasonic, radiographic and infrared testing.

3. Repetitive stress disorders

We know the risk of muscle damage due to strains and sudden trauma. But what about repetitive stress disorders? These are caused by microtears in muscles and tendons that build up over time.

Consistent repetitive movement like stacking, stocking or factory work can lead to conditions like carpal tunnel. It starts as tingling, numbness, and weakness in your hands, fingers or wrists. It can severely impact your range of motion, and if left unchecked, it will cause serious, long-term chronic pain and difficulty with movement, and even nerve damage. It often requires surgery to fix. Avoid repetitive stress disorders by encouraging workers to change up the workflow, and take short breaks when performing repetitive tasks.

4. Sleep disturbances due to shift work

The hours on the jobsite are long, and sometimes require shifts that mess with people’s natural equilibrium. Hard work and dedication are admirable, but overnight shifts and 12 hours working at a stretch has been shown to have serious adverse effects on anyone’s health.

One of the major health risks is the disruption to the sleep schedule. We have certain biorhythms built in for a reason. Along with depriving us of the natural vitamin D that we get from the sun, sleep disturbance has been linked to higher stress levels, lower concentration, and slow reaction times. It also makes it more difficult to learn new things and take in instructions or technical information. All of which can be incredibly dangerous in a warehouse, or on a job site.

High stress leads to cutting corners, and making mistakes in procedure that can put your team at risk. Lowered concentration and a slow reaction time are never safe on the job site, but especially dangerous when operating heavy machinery, where mistakes can cause serious injury or falls. And of course, driving a rig or delivery truck while exhausted increases your risk of accidents on the road.

A reliable human resource team can help track and monitor safe shift lengths, hours worked, and the necessary breaks. Build a communicative and well-informed team to ensure everyone can rest easier.

5. Burnout and stress

A motivated team is a happy, and productive one. That's good for your company, good for job performance, and good for employee health. But sometimes, as a project nears a deadline, it can feel necessary to pull one too many all-nighters. If you're short staffed on a project, it can mean everyone's pulling a little more weight. But burnout, and stress-related health problems, have real consequences.

If someone is overworked, their concentration suffers, which could mean they may endanger themselves or a coworker. Stress has long lasting effects on health. It can cause mood changes, including irritability and depression, and also bring on physical changes.

Stress leads to an excess of cortisol in the brain, which can impact weight gain, and raise cholesterol levels, this means putting a lot of strain on the heart. Taking a break is necessary for health and productivity reasons.

Making time management analysis part of your work culture to eliminate superfluous tasks and make more room to breathe can help employees stay focused, without letting them get overwhelmed.

6. Chronic pain

Chronic pain comes in many forms in industrial work. From the repetitive stress disorders we talked about, to tremors caused by heavy machinery, and pain from too much physical labor. It doesn't take much for an acute problem to become a chronic one.

Lifting is a huge problem for many industrial workers. Chronic pain can be dangerous because it’s ubiquitous. When you're working a physically demanding job, everyday aches and pains can be expected. If pain becomes chronic, try making some changes to the safety gear. Back braces or wrist braces can help take tension off trouble spots while still giving workers room to move comfortably. There are also stretches they can do even while sitting down or on the go to stop tension building up in their body.

7.  Tinnitus

Tinnitus is continuous ringing in the ears caused by loud work environments and heavy machinery. Long-time exposure to noise levels can cause tinnitus, leaving workers with a permanent ringing, buzzing, or humming in their ears. Chronic tinnitus is usually untreatable, but wearing ear protection on the job can help them avoid the problem entirely.

Final thoughts

If your employees work in an industrial environment, like a warehouse, fleet management, or construction work, you already know there are certain physical dangers that come with the job. But it's not all about slips and falls. Some of the dangers of long hours in the warehouse or repetitive work on the factory floor require a little more planning. But putting in the effort to create a transparent work environment, with clear safety measures in place for your crews can make a huge difference to productivity, and the health of your most important asset; your people.

Sophie Parker

Sophie blogs over at Surehand.com, where industrial safety professionals can find their perfect job. It is her aim to help create a safer world, one inspector at a time


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