5 Workplace Safety Hazards to Avoid

Every worker has the right to return home safe each and every day. The most recent report conducted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), showed that 251,508 Canadian’s accepted claims for lost time due to work-related injury or disease in just one year. Following simple health and safety precautions could have eliminated many of these injuries.

The following are 5 health and safety violations that topped the reported violation list in Ontario last year—Read on to ensure you don’t become part of a statistic.

1. Lack of Proper Fall Protection

According to the CCOHS, over 42,000 workers a year are injured due to fall incidents. This represents approximately 18% of the time-loss injuries accepted by the Workers Compensation Board across Canada.

So how do these falls happen? The majority (around 67%) are the result of slips and trips while the remaining are falls from a height.

Preventing Falls due to Slips and Trips

The most basic way to prevent slips and trips is to maintain proper housekeeping measures, such as:

  •  Cleaning spills immediately if possible, and marking them as ‘wet areas’ if not
  •  Ensuring debris is mopped or swept from floors
  •  Removing obstacles from walkways
  •  Securing mats, rugs or carpets to the floor to ensure they lay flat
  •  Covering and securing cables that cross walkways
  •  Replacing used light bulbs and faulty switches to ensure all work areas are well lit

While following these suggestions will reduce your risk for slips and trips, it’s impossible to completely eliminate all risk. As an employee, it is important that you recognize the risk and prepare yourself as much as possible. There are lots of easy ways to reduce your chance of falling, which include:

  • Wearing the proper footwear—Consider slip-resistant shoes with flat heels, especially when working in an oily or wet environment
  • Keep your hands to your sides, not in your pockets, for balance
  • Walk slowly on slippery surfaces—Slide your feet to avoid sharp turns
  • Always focus on where you are going, what you are doing, and what lies ahead
  • Don’t carry loads you can’t see over
  • Watch out for floors that are uneven, have holes, etc.

Preventing Falls from a Height

Just because falls from a height happen less often doesn’t mean you should be discounting them as a serious risk. These falls are the incidents that commonly lead to grave injuries or even death.

The best way to prevent falls from a height is having a fall protection plan. Fall protection plans outline policies and procedures involved in assembling, maintaining, inspecting, using and dismantling any equipment you may be using to work at a height. Fall protection plans need to be customized for each work-site, as requirements and equipment will vary based on many different factors.

A site-specific fall protection plan will incorporate many things, including:

  • Site location – address, description, work areas, tasks, etc.
  • Site-specific fall hazards (e.g. maximum working heights or proximity to power lines)
  • Type of fall protection to be used, including all anchor points and clearance requirements
  • Equipment inspections
  • Any other work requirements (e.g. presence of first aid or rescue personnel, barricades, etc.)
  • Rescue procedures
  • Worker sign off

If you’re working at a height exceeding 3 meters (10 feet) occupational health and safety laws generally require fall protection measures to be in place. You can check with your jurisdiction as requirements do vary, but in most cases fall protection measures such as fixed barriers, surface opening protections, control zones, fall or travel restraint systems, fall containment systems or fall arrest systems are required. You can learn more about some of these systems by reading our fall protection glossary.

2. Improper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment is the last line of defense for workers against hazards. The PPE you use will depend on your work environment, work conditions and the job being performed. It’s important to remember that there are many different variations of PPE and some may be made of materials suitable for one purpose, but not another.

Personal protective equipment does not guarantee permanent or total protection for the wearer, and should be used coupled with other measures to reduce hazards in the workplace. As well, simply having access to some general PPE isn’t enough—to ensure your PPE is providing you with the highest level of protection you must:

  • Carefully select the correct type of PPE based on the type of hazard and degree of protection required
  • Train users to ensure the proper use and fit of the PPE
  • Store and maintain the PPE correctly according to manufacturer guidelines
  • Maintain high-quality PPE by performing regular inspections and discarding/replacing any defective pieces.

Industrial or Construction Workplaces 

Most industrial or construction workplaces require eye protection, head protection and specialized footwear as a minimum protection. The most commonly used PPE in these workplaces are:

  • Hard hats for protection against falling objects
  • Safety glasses for protection against intense light, UV rays, infra-red rays, and flying objects
  • Earplugs or earmuffs for noise protection
  • Safety shoes (often steel-toed) to protect from crushing toes
  • Safety Gloves for protection against contact with toxic chemical or electrical wires
  • Fall protection equipment for protection from falls from a height

Working with Chemicals 

When working with chemicals PPE is necessary to reduce or eliminate exposure. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) will list the correct PPE to wear based on the chemicals being used. It is extremely important to refer to the MSDS when choosing the type of PPE used, as not all types will protect you against certain chemicals. PPE commonly used when working with chemicals include:

  • Safety glasses to protect against chemical liquid splashes, dust, etc.
  • Gloves to protect hands from corrosive or toxic materials
  • Respirators to protect lungs from toxic gas, vapours, fumes and dust
  • Specialized clothing to protect the skin from toxic or corrosive materials
  • Safety footwear to protect the feet from corrosive or toxic materials

Personal protective equipment varies greatly between workplaces and jobs performed, so always survey your work situation to determine if further PPE is necessary. Job-specific PPE may be needed for jobs in which you work with kilns, molten metals or sharp tools.

3. Not Using a Lockout/Tagout System

As much as we’d like to wish it didn’t, equipment breaks—When it does, it’s important to know what to do, especially if that piece of equipment conducts hazardous energy. That’s where the lockout/tagout system comes into play!

What is Lockout/Tagout?

Lockout in technical terms it is defined in the Canadian standard CSA Z460-13 as “Control of Hazardous Energy – Lockout and Other Methods” as the “placement of a lockout device on an energy-isolating device in accordance with an established procedure.” In basic terms, it’s a system that allows you to fully shut down a piece of equipment that needs repair, to ensure no energy is going through the equipment. It also ensures that nobody will be able to use the damaged piece of equipment, or turn it back on prematurely. In most cases, these devices will have loops or tabs that can be locked onto an object keeping it in an “off” or safe position.

Tagout comes in as the labeling process that is always used when lockout is required. These are usually standardized labels that include:

  • Why the lockout/tagout is required (repair, maintenance, etc.)
  • Time of application of the lock/tag
  • The name of the authorized person who attached the tag and lock to the system –
    ONLY the authorized person who placed the lock and tag is permitted to remove them. This helps ensure that the system cannot be started up without the authorized person’s knowledge.

What are the Basic Steps of the Lockout/Tagout system?

This is a process that involves more than simply putting a lock and tag on a switch. Communication, coordination and proper training are key in successfully following the step-by-step process. You should always consult your organization’s lockout program document and follow the detailed instructions provided.
An abbreviated overview of the steps of a lockout/tagout program include:

  1. Prepare for shutdown – The authorized person will identify any sources of energy connected to the equipment, and choose the proper method of control.
  2. Notify all affected employees – The authorized person will notify all affected personnel of what is going to be lock/tagged out, why it will be locked/tagged out, how long they should expect the equipment to be unavailable, who is responsible for the lockout/tagout and who to contact for more information.
  3. Equipment Shutdown – Following the manufacturer’s instructions or in-house work instructions the equipment is shut down ensuring all controls are in the off position and all moving parts have come to a complete stop.
  4. Isolation of System from Hazardous Energy – In most cases, there will be exact written instructions guiding you as so how to cut off different forms of energy found within your workplace. General CCOHS procedures can be found here.
  5. Removal of residual or stored energy – Following manufacturer instructions ensure any stored energy within the system has dissipated.
  6. Lockout/Tagout – Once you’re sure all energy sources are blocked, the system is locked and tagged to ensure it stays in an off and safe position. Each lock should only have one key, and each person working on the system should have their OWN lock.
  7. Verify Isolation – Verify that the system is properly locked out before any work is completed.
  8. Perform Maintenance or Service Activity – Complete the job required while the system is locked and off.
  9. Remove Lockout/Tagout Devices – Inspect the work area to ensure all tools have been removed, confirm that all employees are safely away from the area, verify that controls are in a neutral position, remove devices, re-energize the machine and notify affected employees that servicing is completed.

Following the correct steps in locking and tagging out equipment is the best way to ensure that nobody is harmed while performing maintenance as well as no piece of equipment is used while broken-down.

4. Poor Housekeeping

When you think of housekeeping the first thing to pop to mind may be the ever-growing list of chores you struggle through when you’d rather be watching TV. However, in the workplace housekeeping isn’t just about dusting some selves, it’s an important part of your health and safety measures!

Poor housekeeping can be the cause of workplace incidents such as:

  • Trips and slips because of loose objects or wet spots on floors, stairs, and platforms
  • Being hit by falling objects
  • Hitting against projecting, poorly stacked items
  • Cutting or puncturing of the skin on projecting nails, wire or steel strapping

How do I Plan a Good Housekeeping Program?

Effective housekeeping programs require ongoing management and attention. It focuses on more than just keeping the workplace neat and tidy, but also deals with the layout of the workplace, aisle marking, storage facilities, and maintenance. A big part of proper workplace housekeeping is ensuring that everything that comes into the workplace has a plan as to where it will be, how it will be handled, and how it will leave the space – including disposal procedures. Often times, injuries result from materials being stored improperly, but that can easily be avoided by having a storage plan and procedure in place.

You also want to make sure you are keeping the space clean. Each work environment will require different services, but it all boils down to having a plan and staying on top of it. Making sure you have a plan for dirt and dust removal, washroom facilities, surfaces (floors and walls), light fixtures, aisles and stairways, spill control and waste disposal—These are all good jumping-off points, but you should stay aware of any reoccurring problem areas in your work-space and be on-top of addressing them in a timely manner.

What are the Benefits of Good Housekeeping Practices?

It’s important to remember that many other health and safety measures can be made useless without proper housekeeping. For example, offering a forklift operations safety course to your workers won’t result in less forklift accidents if your work areas aren’t cleared enough to navigate without hitting obstacles.

We can’t stress enough how important it is to take the time to maintain your work-space—It can also result in:

  • Reduced handling  of materials
  • Fewer tripping and slipping incidents
  • Decreased fire hazards
  • Lower exposure to hazardous products
  • Better control of tools and materials, including inventory and supplies
  • More efficient equipment cleanup and maintenance
  • Better hygienic conditions leading to improved health
  • More effective use of space
  • Improved morale and productivity

5. Incorrect use of Ladders

Ladders are a tool very commonly used both in out of the workplace, that can easily be used incorrectly. That being said, with the correct knowledge, it’s also very easy to use them correctly!

Before using a ladder you should always take a moment to inspect both the ladder and the area in which you are using it. Before each use, make sure your ladder is in good working condition and doesn’t need any repairs. Good things to look out for are:

  • Missing, loose or damaged steps or rungs (you should not be able to move or shift these by hand)
  • Loose nails, screw, bolts or nuts
  • Rot, decay or warped rails in wooden ladders
  • Cracks and exposed material in fiberglass ladders
  • Rough or splintered surfaces
  • Corrosion, rust, oxidization or excessive wear
  • Twisted or distorted rails
  • Loose or bent hinges or pail shelf
  • Wobble of any kind

If any of these things are present in your ladder, it should not be used and should only be repaired by a trained professional—Don’t try to make temporary makeshift repairs or attempt to straighten bent or bowed ladders on your own.

What SHOULD you do When Climbing Up or Down a Ladder?

Before using a ladder you should always ensure that it is secured correctly—A second person should hold the bottom of long ladders to keep them steady. And don’t forget about your footwear! Make sure your footwear is in good condition and is cleared of mud, water, snow, ice or grease. Footwear with a heel is recommended, as it can help stop the foot from slipping forward on the rugs.

Other things to remember are:

  • Face the stepladder
  • Keep your body centered between side rails
  • Maintain three-point contact by keeping two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on a ladder always
  • Keep a firm grip
  • Place feet firmly on each rung
  • Rise or lower tools and materials using a hoist, hand-line, bucket or other device.
  • If using an extension ladder, be careful when stepping or gripping near the locks as the locks could obscure part of the rung
  • Use the appropriate safety devices when needed (e.g., safety belt, fall restraint, etc.).
  • Check with your jurisdiction for requirements when working at heights near or above 3 metres (10 feet).
  • Only allow one person on a ladder at a time (except when using a specially engineered two-person ladder).

What SHOULDN’T you do When Climbing Up or Down a Ladder?

  • Hurry when moving up or down the ladder
  • Slide down the ladder
  • Jump from a ladder
  • Carry tools or materials in your hand while climbing the ladder
  • Use an aluminum ladder when working near electricity
  • Reach from the centre of a ladder (always climb down and move the ladder if you cannot reach)
  • “Shift” or “walk” a stepladder when standing on it
  • Use tools that require a lot of leverage (e.g. pry bars) as this motion could knock you off balance
  • Stand, climb, or sit on the ladder or pail shelf
  • Stand on or above the top two rungs or steps of a ladder
  • Allow another person to work below your ladder

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