Most health and safety risks can be easily avoided by following a systematic approach to understanding hazards, mitigating risks and training staff on how to protect their own well-being.
Five steps for small business health & safety
It is important for small businesses to identify and assess the health and safety risks in their workplace and take steps to control these risks. This can be done by conducting a risk assessment, which involves identifying hazards, evaluating the risks associated with those hazards, and taking steps to control the risks.
- Conduct a Risk Assessment
- Create a Health & Safety Policy
- Provide Health & Safety Training
- Maintain your workplace
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)
Key health & safety risks for small businesses
We explain the causes and consequences of each hazard and simple steps to reduce their risk in your business.
- Slips, Trips & Falls
- Lifting Injuries
- Electrical Hazards
- Chemical Exposure
- Noise Exposure
- Ergonomic Hazards
- Fire Hazards
- Industry Specific Hazards
Health & safety tips for small businesses
1. Slips, Trips & Falls
These are the most common types of workplace accidents. Injuries can range from minor to life-changing, or in the extremes, loss of life.
A slip is when you lose your footing and slide. A trip is when you catch your foot on something and fall. A fall is when you come down suddenly from an elevated position.
How to prevent slips, trips, and falls
- Ensure work areas are adequately lit
- Be aware of your surroundings and watch out for hazards.
- Wear appropriate footwear with good traction.
- Use caution when walking on wet or slippery surfaces.
- Be careful when walking on uneven or damaged surfaces.
- Remove clutter from walkways.
- Use handrails when going up or down stairs.
2. Lifting Injuries
Lifting heavy objects without proper training or technique can lead to back and other muscle injuries. Lifting injuries can affect any body part, but they are most common in the back, shoulders, and knees.
The injuries can range from mild to severe. Mild injuries may cause pain, swelling, and stiffness. Severe injuries may require surgery and long-term rehabilitation.
There are a number of causes of lifting injuries, from using improper lifting techniques, lifting awkwardly or with a twisted body, to lifting objects that are too large, bulky, out of balance or too high or too low.
How to prevent lifting injuries
- Use proper lifting techniques. This means keeping your back straight, bending at the knees, and lifting with your legs, not your back.
- Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy or awkward. If you need to lift a heavy object, get help from someone else.
- Use lifting equipment to help you lift heavy objects.
- Take breaks when lifting heavy objects.
- Warm up before lifting heavy objects.
3. Electrical Hazards
Electrical hazards are the potential dangers associated with electrical systems. These hazards can cause injuries such as burns, electrocution, arc flash, and electric shock, and in extreme cases, they can even lead to fires or explosions.
Common electrical hazards include exposed wires, faulty electrical equipment, overloaded circuits, improper grounding, damaged insulation, wet conditions and contact with overhead power lines.
How to prevent electrical accidents
- Have a qualified electrician inspect and repair on a regular basis.
- Keep electrical cords and outlets out of the reach of children.
- Do not overload sockets.
- Use extension cords only when necessary and unplug them when not in use.
- Be careful when using electrical appliances in wet conditions.
- Never touch a live wire.
4. Chemical Exposure
Chemical exposure hazards are the potential dangers associated with contact with chemicals. These hazards can cause a variety of health problems, depending on the type of chemical, the route of exposure, and the amount of exposure.
Chemical exposure hazards can be found in all environments, from homes and workplaces to industrial and commercial facilities.
Common chemical hazards include cleaning products, pesticides, herbicides, solvents, paints, coatings and automotive or industrial chemicals.
Chemicals enter the body through four routes
- Inhalation: Breathing in chemical fumes, vapours, or dust.
- Ingestion: Swallowing chemicals.
- Skin absorption: Chemicals entering the body through the skin.
- Injection: Chemicals entering the body through a wound or needle prick.
Chemical exposure can have several effects on health, including skin irritation, burns, respiratory problems, eye irritation and burns, cancer and neurological problems.
How to prevent injuries from chemical exposure
- Read and follow the safety instructions on all chemical products.
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles, and a respirator, when working with chemicals.
- Work in a well-ventilated area when using chemicals.
- Avoid contact with chemicals as much as possible.
- Store chemicals safely and out of the reach of children.
5. Noise Exposure
Noise exposure is the amount of noise that you are exposed to over a period of time. Noise is measured in decibels (dB). A decibel is a unit of loudness. The louder the noise, the higher the decibel level.
Excessive noise exposure can damage hearing and lead to other health problems, such as tinnitus and stress. The louder the noise and the longer you are exposed to it, the greater your risk of hearing loss.
What are the effects of noise exposure?
The effects of noise exposure can vary depending on the loudness of the noise and the length of time you are exposed to it.
In the short term, it can lead to temporary hearing loss, tinnitus, ear pain, fatigue and stress. If the exposure persists, it can lead to permanent hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, sleeping and cognitive problems
How can you protect your staff from the effects of noise exposure?
- Provide earplugs or earmuffs when working in noisy environments.
- Keep staff away from loud noises whenever possible.
- If staff must be exposed to loud noises, ensure they take breaks in quiet places.
6. Ergonomic Hazards
Ergonomic hazards are physical conditions or factors in the workplace that can pose a risk of injury to the musculoskeletal system due to poor ergonomics. These hazards include awkward or static postures, high forces, repetitive motion, or short intervals between activities.
Common Ergonomic Hazards
- Sitting or standing in the same position for long periods of time
- Working in a cramped or confined space
- Using tools or equipment that are too heavy or difficult to use
- Lifting or moving heavy objects
- Performing repetitive tasks
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can be painful and debilitating, and they can make it difficult to work or perform everyday activities. Ergonomic hazards can cause back, neck, shoulder, wrist, elbow or knee pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and tendonitis.
How to Prevent Ergonomic Hazards
Ergonomic hazards are preventable. By taking steps to protect yourself from ergonomic hazards, you can help prevent MSDs and other injuries.
There are a number of ways that employers and employees can reduce the risks posed by ergonomic hazards.
- Provide employees with adjustable workstations and chairs.
- Encourage employees to take breaks throughout the day.
- Provide employees with training on proper lifting techniques and other ergonomic practices.
- Adjust your workstation and chair to fit your body.
- Take breaks throughout the day to move around and stretch.
- Use proper lifting techniques.
- If you experience pain or discomfort, let your supervisor know.
7. Fire Hazards
Small businesses are often at increased risk of fire due to limited storage space, flammable materials, and lack of fire protection systems.
Fire hazards are any materials, conditions, or actions that can increase the likelihood of a fire starting or spreading.
They can lead to serious consequences, including property damage, injuries, and death. It is important to be aware of fire hazards and take steps to prevent them.
Common fire hazards
- Flammable liquids and gases, such as gasoline, propane, and natural gas
- Combustible materials, such as paper, wood, and textiles
- Electrical hazards, such as faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, and damaged outlets
- Heating appliances, such as stoves, fireplaces, and space heaters
- Cooking appliances, such as ovens, microwaves, and stoves
- Smoking materials, such as cigarettes, lighters, and matches
How to reduce the risks from fire hazards
- Store flammable liquids and gases in a safe place, away from heat sources and open flames.
- Keep combustible materials away from heat sources and open flames.
- Have your electrical wiring inspected and repaired by a qualified electrician on a regular basis.
- Use heating and cooking appliances safely and according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Dispose of smoking materials properly.
- Be careful when using open flames.
8. Industry Specific Risks
Small businesses may also face specific risks depending on their industry and activities. For example, a construction company may face risks associated with working with heavy machinery and hazardous materials, while a restaurant may face risks associated with food safety and fire hazards.
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