This article is part of our Back To Basics series, which highlights fundamental principles of environmental, health, and safety management. The series is written for EHS professionals new to this industry, as well as experienced pros who want to keep their skills fresh.
Some workplace hazards — such as working at heights and operating heavy machinery — are well-known and typically covered by your organization’s safety procedures.
However, there are many lesser-known hazards lurking in the workplace that can pose a serious threat to your employees’ health and safety.
Based on data from OSHA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more, here are ten of the most commonly overlooked safety issues:
Stress affects workers in every industry, including manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and energy. Long days combined with an increased workload, financial pressures, and job instability all add up to tired, frazzled employees.
Not only can stress lower productivity, it can also put workers at risk for physical and mental illness including anxiety, depression, and even suicide. In fact, more than 10% of healthcare claims can be attributed to stress at work.
Staying safe depends on a worker’s ability to pay attention to their surroundings and anticipate potential hazards. Yet, today’s workers have more competing for their attention than ever. Among these distractions, texting and using headphones to listen to music are common contributors to workplace accidents.
3. Poor ergonomics
Ergonomics is the science of designing the working environment to fit the worker. Without proper ergonomics, tasks like lifting heavy objects, reaching overhead, performing repetitive tasks, or even working at a computer with bad lighting can lead to fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, musculoskeletal disorders account for about a third of worker injury and illness cases, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Slips, trips & falls
Falls are a leading cause of workplace accidental deaths. Construction workers are at the highest risk of fatal falls, but falls can happen anywhere — even an office. And while most safety professionals are aware of measures that must be in place to prevent falls from heights, less attention is paid to tripping hazards and falls on the same level.
5. Noise & hearing loss
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 22 million workers in the United States are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. Another 9 million are exposed to ototoxic chemicals — substances that cause harm to hearing and balance. Noise and chemicals often cause hearing loss damage over time, which makes them easy to overlook.
6. Colds & flu
The coronavirus pandemic has raised awareness about the risk of spreading illnesses at work, and the need for workers to stay home when they’re sick. However, workers may be reluctant to call off work when it’s “just a cold”. The CDC, on the other hand, recommends that workers who have a fever or respiratory symptoms should stay at home — even if they have tested negative for COVID-19.
7. Working alone
Working alone is common in many industries, from truck drivers to night shift factory workers, home health care nurses, and even business travelers. Keeping lone workers safe presents a number of challenges.
Working alone can increase the risk of injury, especially when performing dangerous tasks. If a lone worker is injured, there’s no one around to call for help or provide emergency medical attention. And without other workers present, there’s no telling how long it will take for someone to notice there’s a problem.
8. Bullying & harassment
Bullying and harassment are often considered an HR issue. Yet, they can have a serious impact on workers’ physical and mental health. Research shows that victims of workplace harassment may develop anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It has also been linked to increased drug use and, in the most serious cases, suicide.
9. Temporary workers
Approximately 2.8 million workers — or about 10% of the American workforce — are considered temporary workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Too often, these workers perform dangerous jobs without adequate training on safety practices or job-specific hazards. An analysis of millions of workers’ compensation claims found found that temporary workers are more likely to get hurt on the job than permanent employees.
10. Safety systems
Collecting and analyzing safety data from frontline workers, such as incident reports and near miss observations, is an integral part of any safety program. Yet many organizations lack effective systems for reporting and addressing issues. Without these systems in place, safety leaders miss out on valuable insights that could help prevent injuries and accidents.
Your next steps
By acknowledging and addressing these commonly overlooked safety issues, you can make your workplace safer and healthier for your employees. Next, learn which leading indicators the safest companies use.
Note: This article was originally published April 2, 2019 and was updated May 2022 for freshness and comprehensiveness.