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How to Prevent Common Workplace Accidents

Accidents at work can happen in many different circumstances and injuries can range from minor, to severe and life changing.  It is the duty of an employer to be aware of the most common accidents and have in place all necessary training and safeguards to protect employees.

Here are details of the most common workplace accidents with some guidance on how they can be prevented:

Slips and Trips in the workplace: Falling on a wet surface or tripping on loose cables, carpets or mats at work are common accidents, which occur at work. Injuries can range from simple to severe.  A person could land on a hard surface or hit a sharp object as they fall. Head injuries are not uncommon.

They are the easiest type of accident to prevent. Employers should carry out regular risk assessments of slipping and tripping hazards in the workplace and ensure damaged carpets, trailing wires and leaks, which cause wet surfaces are all repaired. Providing anti-slip surfaces especially on stairs is key to safeguarding employees and being aware of floor conditions during adverse weather conditions can prevent accidents occurring. Providing adequate lighting in stairwells is essential.

Employees also have a responsibility to report and clear up spills or highlight a hazardous floor or wiring system.

Falls from a height: Falls from a height at work cause the most workplace fatalities in the UK and are major causes of serious injuries at work. Scenarios include falls from scaffolding that has not been erected safely, falling from an unsecured or badly maintained ladder, falling through a fragile roof, falls from edges that do not have a safety barrier and falling from a crane. There are regulations that are intended to protect people who work at any height at work.

Preventative measures include correct assembly of scaffolding and checks before it is used. Ensuring all ladders are secured and workers wearing a safety harness. Ensuring the repair of any equipment that workers have to use at any height and regular checks of rooftops and edges of buildings, platforms  or cranes where people may be working. Adequate training in the use of all equipment at a height is essential.

Members of the public are also at risk from scaffolding and other equipment, which may cause an accident from a height and employers should be aware of the wider consequences of not providing a safe working environment.

Injuries from hazardous substances: Many workers are made ill or injured at work by hazardous substances in the workplace.  Many industrial materials and substances are hazardous and can cause burns and many byproducts such as dust and fumes cause illness in the workforce such as asthma and dermatitis. Industries where injuries are common include catering, cleaning, construction, metalworking, horticulture and agriculture.  Safety signs and stickers, secured lockers for hazardous substances, protective clothing and only authorising certain personnel to handle substances can all reduce the chances of accidents occurring.

Employers can also prevent most accidents by employing the following measures in the workplace.

  • Checking the safety information sheet on all substances used in the workplace.
  • Asking the supplier to explain the risks of each substance.
  • If the substance is harmful, checking how workers might be exposed to it
  • Once all the risks are known, issuing all necessary protective clothing and masks to those handling the substance, is essential. Using safety signs and stickers and secured lockers for hazardous substances further reduces the risk.
  • Ensure all workers using the substance are fully trained in how to handle substances without risk to their health.
  •  Carry out regular checks on the use of hazardous substances.

Back and neck injuries from incorrect lifting and manual handling: More than a third of all injuries reported to the HSE, which have resulted in absence form work, relate to manual handling. The injuries occur through pushing, pulling, lifting and lowering incorrectly and involve the back and neck.

Employers can prevent accidents by ensuring that all unnecessary manual handing is eliminated from the workplace but where it is unavoidable, that all workers are trained correctly and provided with the correct back supports where required.  Workers themselves have a responsibility to follow the training they are given and use equipment to help them when it is necessary.

Repetitive strain injury: These type of injures do not result from a single accident but from carrying out continuous repetitive tasks without correct breaks, assessment or equipment.  They are a common cause of compensation claims and can be prevented by a thorough risk assessment of working practice to ensure equipment is of the correct height and placement for an employee and by the provision of wrist rests, headsets and adequate breaks from carrying our tasks.

Accidents caused while using dangerous industrial machinery: Dangerous machinery is used on a daily basis is many workplaces in the UK.  Common accidents that occur are crush injuries to hands and fingers where safety guards were missing or where a worker was not using the machinery or protective equipment provided, correctly. Eye injuries occur when particles are ejected from machinery and the workers eyes are not protected adequately if at all. In more serious cases workers have been killed by dangerous machinery.

Deafness from the use of loud machinery is also a common occurrence although this occurs over time rather than on one occasion.

Preventative measures to protect workers from the risks of Dangerous machinery include complying with the requirements of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 ( PUWER). The main points are as follows:

  • That equipment is suitable for the purpose, maintained and in good repair. This includes its power supply and start/ stop controls.
  • Installed and inspected correctly.
  • Ensure all people using it and supervising its use, have clear safety information, are adequately trained and provided with all necessary protective equipment from any hazards arising from the use of the machinery.
  • That access to all dangerous parts of the machinery is prevented by fixed guards and warning signs.

Electrical Accidents: Electricity is a necessary part of most workplaces.  Some work environments require significantly higher voltages that others and around 1000 accidents involving electricity at work are reported to the HSE ever year. These include, shocks, burns, and loss of muscle control and thermal burns.

Preventative measures should include total compliance with HSE guidelines, which include requirements for essential risk assessment, training, maintenance and safe work practice near overhead lines.

Driving related accidents relating to use of heavy machinery: These are common in the industrial sector on construction sites and in warehouses where vehicles including forklift trucks are driven in confined spaces.  They are the second most common cause of fatal injuries to both the driver and people on the ground. Preventative measures include correct training and signage for dangerous areas or high traffic areas on industrial sites.

Risk assessments: Regular risk assessments in any workplace are the single most effective way to prevent accidents of various kinds. There can often be an element of carelessness on the part of the employee injured, despite the safeguards that are in place. It is up to the employer to do all it can to be aware of any potential risk of accidents occurring in the work environment.