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INJURIES IN THE WORKPLACE

Injuries and illnesses directly caused by the workplace are a significant issue for both workers and employers, despite most being easily avoidable

Between 2011 and 2012, 1.8 million workers suffered from an illness that they believe was caused or made worse by their current or former workplace, with the majority of problems being caused by stress or musculoskeletal disorders. According to the Labour Force Survey, 750 per 100,000 workers had an injury that led to an absence of over three days, and 4.3 million working days were lost in total in Britain due to a workplace injury.

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Symptoms

Discomfort or pain in the muscles and joints, a stiff neck, pinched nerves, numbness slipped discs and spine misalignment. Pain in the lower-back is also a common problem.

Workplace related causes

Sitting down for prolonged periods of time, particularly in improper positions means that the spine is curved unnaturally, putting extra strain on the back muscles.

Prevention

The chair and its setup play a significant role. Whilst sitting, the edge of the chair should be comfortable, and shouldn’t touch the back of your knees. Your feet should rest flat on the floor, with your thighs parallel; if this isn't possible, then a footrest would be advised.

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Symptoms

Many people suffer from problems with airborne allergens, which can irritate the throat, eyes, nose and lungs.

Workplace related causes

Poor air circulation is a common allergy stimulator in the workplace.

Prevention

Even a small portable air filter can keep the air clear of pollutants. Air conditioning and closed windows and doors is an effective way to keep out airborne pollens and moulds.

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Symptoms

Bacteria build up can lead to a range of illnesses, but at its most basic can quickly pass colds and flu around the office.

Workplace related causes

Workstations can quickly become bacteria hotbeds. The phone, mouse and keyboard for instance can be used by a number of colleagues and are often cleaned infrequently.

Prevention

Use antibacterial wipes to keep work area clean, ensuring keyboards are clear of crumbs that can attract rodents and insects. Keeping a hand sanitiser close by is also effective when used regularly.

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Symptoms

Initial symptoms include burning, tingling or itching in the palm or fingers, while many sufferers also imagine a swelling in the hand. Many symptoms are first noticed following sleep, with the need to ‘shake out’ the hands or wrists. As the condition worsens, tingling, pain, weakness or numbness in the hand, wrist or radiating up the arm will be felt throughout the day.

Workplace related causes

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is caused by swelling or thickening from irritated tendons pressing or squeezing on the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the palm. Prolonged use of the keyboard or mouse with unsuitable posture can affect the nerve. Assembly line tasks such as packing or manufacturing are also very common causes.

Prevention

Use a well-supported mouse mat for consistent resting, try and do regular stretching exercises, take sufficient rest breaks and adopt an ideal ergonomic posture. In high risk roles further prevention may be necessary, for instance installing new handles or tools to take the strain of hands and wrists, using a job rotation system, or wearing wrist splints.

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Symptoms

Depending on the severity, muscle spasms and burns can be the result of a shock. Significant electrical force can also lead to broken bones or damage to internal organs.

Workplace related causes

Loose cables and faulty equipment are the most significant hazards. Overloaded sockets and low-quality electrical equipment can also be issues that are easily overlooked.

Prevention

Ensure any possible issues are reported immediately, or are avoided in the first place – don't overload sockets and try to use certified equipment.

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Symptoms

Itchy or watery eyes, red irritated eyes and eyelids, double vision and loss of focus. Headaches can also occur from straining to see properly.

Workplace related causes

Looking at a computer screen for prolonged periods can cause a number of issues, particularly when combined with poor quality images or particularly-small characters. Screen glare also results in an excessive contrast between light levels on and off screen which can aggravate eyes, as well as encouraging the adoption of awkward positioning that can make issues worse.

Prevention

Tackle the problem at the source with a glare reducing monitor, failing that then correct brightness setup or software like f.lux can help reduce the issue. Adjusting blinds or replacing excessive or inconsistent lighting in order to reduce screen glare and provide an ideal visual environment can also help avoid problems. Regular blinking, focusing on distant objects and generally looking away from the screen will also help avoid issues.

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Symptoms

Properly assess the situation and your capabilities before attempting to lift anything, if you think it’s beyond your abilities then don’t be afraid to ask for help. When lifting, ensure the correct technique is used; keeping a straight back throughout, bend the knees and lift with your legs.

Workplace related causes

A number of routine office tasks could cause an issue, for instance changing the water cooler, moving a computer monitor or lifting a box of copier paper.

Prevention

Properly assess the situation and your capabilities before attempting to lift anything, if you think it’s beyond your abilities then don’t be afraid to ask for help. When lifting, ensure the correct technique is used; keeping a straight back throughout, bend the knees and lift with your legs.

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Symptoms

Numbness, Tingling or coldness. Serious RSD can lead to inability do to the most basic of tasks such as writing or turning a tap, which also means some are unable to carry on in their chosen career.

Workplace related causes

Any role that includes long term strain to the muscles, usually from repeating the same movements frequently. For instance long-term use of keyboards or a mouse, cleaning, assembly line packing or manufacturing.

Prevention

Try keeping an alarm reminder to track or warn against long term repetition of movements, and take regular breaks to avoid staying in the same position for too long. It is also recommended that you avoid over-tensing muscles and keeping your head and back straight and shoulders unhunched.

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Symptoms

Stress is a normal chemical reaction in the body that allows us to react quickly to threatening situations, long term stress however can have detrimental effects on the body. Stress can lead to fatigue and pain, as well as angry outbursts and depression, which can dramatically affect both work and social lives.

Workplace related causes

Different people have different inducers and tolerances to stress. Common workplace causes are tight deadlines and other high pressure situations, often made worse by noise levels, dehydration or lighting.

Prevention

Drinking water regularly can avoid dehydration-caused stress and improve energy levels. Simple stress toys, breathing techniques and exercise can help reduce the its effect.  More significant measures include installing noise reducing office fittings, or introducing flexible work schemes.

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Symptoms

Skin irritation or rashes, burns, or serious internal injuries.

Workplace related causes

Cleaning substances such as bleach and cleaners can be deadly when mixed inappropriately, mistaken for another substance or inhaled in unventilated spaces. The hazards of substances such as adhesives or printer toner can also often be overlooked.

Prevention

Where necessary, use the proper precautions to handle dangerous substances such as gloves or safety glasses. Make sure hazardous substances are clearly distinguishable, with proper labelling and dispose of them correctly.