Workplace Safety: Beware of These Hidden Dangers
Written for AOL
Some jobs are just inherently dangerous: Window washers spend their days suspended 50 stories above ground, coal miners face risks like wall collapses, gas poisoning and explosions, and the livelihood of firefighters practically depends on the presence of dangerous conditions. Because of the occupational hazards that go along with these jobs, many of us opt for safer means of employment, where we're out of harm's way ... or so we think.
While it's true that many of us won't encounter the potentially life-threatening working conditions of coal miners and the like, there are other, oft-hidden workplace hazards that come with even the most unexciting desk jobs. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost four in 100 private-sector workers experienced a nonfatal workplace injury or illness in 2008 (the most recent year from which data is available); a statistic which does not reflect the injury and illness rate of hazard-ridden jobs in the public sector, like firefighters and policemen.
Below, we outline some of the most common -- but often unseen -- workplace dangers, and how you can protect yourself against them.
Though some professions practically include "willing to work overtime" as part of the job description (43 percent of surgeons report working more than 50 hours per week, as do 33 percent of attorneys), extensive overtime can actually be hazardous to your health.
According to an 11-year study conducted among British white-collar workers, those who put in 10 or more hours at work each day were 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those with a standard workday (considered seven hours in the U.K.).
In fact, in the official abstract of the study, the conclusion statement read: "Overtime work is related to increased risk of incident CHD (chronic heart disease) independently of conventional risk factors. These findings suggest that overtime work adversely affects coronary health."
Unfortunately, the workloads of many employees have skyrocketed over the past two years, as companies try to cut back and "do more with less," which means overtime may be presently unavoidable. The good news is the study showed that working just one or two extra hours each day (8-9 hours total) had little impact on overall health. So next time you're considering burning the midnight oil at the office, consider instead the effects your after-hours work will have on your heart health, and try to keep your workday to less than 10 hours.
Overuse injuries -- also dubbed work-related musculoskeletal disorders -- are classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as injuries of the musculoskeletal system or connective tissue resulting from "bending, climbing, crawling, reaching, twisting, overexertion or repetition." The classification includes injuries such as carpal tunnel, bursitis, tendonitis, tennis elbow, sciatica, strains and sprains.
The hidden danger of these injuries lies in the fact that they are progressive, so symptoms may not appear -- or become bothersome -- until damage has already been done.
Though such injuries are often associated with labor-intensive jobs like manufacturing and construction, WMDs can happen at almost any job. Everyone from health-care workers, who lift and handle patients all day, to grocery store cashiers, who spend hours scanning grocery items, may be susceptible to overuse injuries.
Luckily, regulations are in place to mitigate WMD hazards. There's even a science -- called ergonomics -- devoted to the development of efficient and comfortable work environments. Additionally, government agencies like the BLS and Occupation Safety and Health Administration require employers to provide an employee with appropriate time off to recuperate from a WMD, or to provide injured workers with work duties that will not exacerbate the injury.
Should you find yourself starting to experience muscle soreness after work, or if you feel like your job duties are putting constant strain on your body, it is best to address it with your employer as soon as possible, to prevent serious injury. Your employer is required by law to provide you with a work environment that is safe and free of hazards.
For more information, visit the OSHA website
Many women find that high heels put that final, professional and polished touch on their daily work outfit -- so much so that some women wear heels to work every day. While heels may give you that added boost of both height and confidence, they may be doing long-term damage to your Achilles' tendon.
A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology showed that women who regularly wore heels to work (at least two inches high) had Achilles' tendons that were thicker, stiffer and comprised of shorter muscle fibers than those of women who wore flats. The study also showed that long-term, a stiff Achilles' tendon can lead to chronic pain and a hindered ability to walk and run.
Women who experience pain associated with footwear choice should opt to wear flats on alternate days, and stretch out their ankles and feet at the end of the day.
The bottom line: Even if you're not fighting fires or washing windows 50 stories up, hazardous situations exist at all workplaces. Pay attention to the amount of stress your job puts on both your mind and body ... it's the only way to prevent work-related injury and illness.
Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job seeker blog, The Work Buzz. Kaitlin spends her days researching and writing about all things career-related and trying not to inspire any of her colleagues’ “annoying co-worker” articles. She lives and works in Chicago, but hails from Connecticut and graduated from Northeastern University in Boston with a degree in journalism.