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Preventing workplace injuries

Going to work can be dangerous, but it shouldn't be.

Preventing workplace injuries
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Every day, 165 Americans die from occupational diseases and 18 more die from a work-related injury, according to Lisa Cullen, the author of "A Job to Die For." That amounts to thousands of workplace deaths every year, most of them preventable.

In addition, more than 30,000 workers every day are injured at work or develop an occupational illness. These workplace injuries, illnesses and deaths have a huge financial price beyond the human toll. Workplace deaths, illnesses and injuries cost $155.5 billion annually -- five times the cost of AIDS, three times the cost of Alzheimer's disease and almost as much as cancer, according to Cullen.

But many of these accidents are preventable, if employers would only establish safety procedures, provide workers with adequate safety equipment, follow government rules regarding the safe storage and usage of hazardous materials, conduct routine safety inspections and train their employees on safety and prevention measures.

In fact, very few workplace injuries are the result of unavoidable "accidents." According to California State University at Fullerton, only about 4 percent of all work-related accidents are caused by technical issues such as faulty equipment.

Though workers can be hurt at any job, construction work is one of the most dangerous jobs, accounting for thousands of injuries every year.

But employees and their employers can take simple steps and make simple changes to prevent many of these injuries. At the same time, employers will reduce their workers' compensation costs by reducing the number of employees who are hurt or killed at work.

Here are some tips for staying safe on the job and for keeping your employees safe.

Tips for Workers

  • While working at a computer, sit with your knees at a 90- to 120-degree angle. Using an angled foot rest can help reduce back strain.
  • Make sure your chair fits correctly and is ergonomically designed.
  • When lifting heavy or awkward items, life with your knees not with your back. Always bend your hips and knees and squat to pick a heavy object while keeping your back straight and holding the object close to your body.
  • Don't twist your body while lifting.
  • If you must sit for long periods, take frequent breaks to stretch.
  • Exercise regularly, focusing on strength and flexibility.
  • Change tools and/or equipment. For example, use tools with extension handles that let you stand up rather than stooping.
  • To reduce the amount of overhead work you must do, use a lift to raise yourself so you are closer to the work.
  • When you pick up or set down a load, don't reach more than 10 inches away from your body.
  • Lift any load using a solid two-handed grip
  • Use ergonomically designed tools that are designed to fit the hand and body and the job.
  • Avoid overexertion. Many injuries at work occur when employees are tired or strained. Don't overdo it because you could suffer an injury. Instead, give your body and your mind time to rest and recover.
  • Report any unsafe conditions immediately to a supervisor. If your employer doesn't do anything to fix the hazardous condition, take your concerns to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or another government agency.

Tips for Employers

  • Adopt and enforce safety procedures. OSHA requires employers to follow certain safety procedures, but companies should also develop additional safety rules for their workplaces and their employees.
  • Provide adequate safety training for workers and review safety policies with employees on a regular basis.
  • Ensure that spills and other potential hazards are cleaned up immediately.
  • Do not allow employees to continue working if they are tired or in danger of overexertion because this is a clear recipe for accidents and injuries.
  • Ensure that anyone who is operating power equipment or handling hazardous materials has received adequate training on how to use these tools and materials. It's also important that employees know what to do in an emergency.
  • Involve employees in the creation of health and safety policies. In addition, listen to workers concerns about unsafe conditions and potentially hazardous processes.
  • Correct employees and supervisors who are not following safety procedures
  • Create a safety checklist that includes all potential hazards in your workplace.
  • Understand the role that ergonomics can play in preventing workplace injuries and reducing repetitive motion disorders

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