Occupational hazard is a hazard experienced in the workplace, it can encompass many types of hazards, including chemical hazards, biological hazards (biohazards), psychosocial hazards, and physical hazards.
In other words, occupational hazard explains the risks of illnesses or accidents in the workplace. An occupational hazard is something unpleasant that a person experiences or suffers as a result of doing their job. Some dictionaries say that the term also includes hazards that people experience as a result of working on their hobbies.
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Occupational hazard as a term signifies both long-term and short-term risks associated with the workplace environment and is a field of study within occupational safety and health and public health. Short term risks may include physical injury, while long-term risks may be increased risk of developing cancer or heart disease.
Examples of occupational hazards
Occupational hazards are divided into five groups according to their nature:
1) Physical hazard: Related to exposure to noise, ionizing radiation, and temperature.
2) Chemical hazard: Related to exposure to gases, vapors, fumes, and chemicals.
3) Biological hazard: This includes exposure to viruses, bacteria, blood and blood products.
4) Ergonomic hazard: Relate to the requirement of improper posture, monotony, repetitiveness, work shifts, and situations causing stress.
5) Psychosocial hazard
This group of risks is constantly present at work in or, responsible for a large number of occupational diseases, such as hypertension, stress, and cancer.
Physical hazards may be factors, agents, or circumstances that can cause harm without or with contact. We classify them as either environmental or occupational hazards. Examples are Radiation, heat, cold stress, vibrations, and noise, etc.
Physical hazards cause injuries and illnesses in several industries. In some industries, such as mining and construction, they are unavoidable.
Noise exposure is associated with stress-related disorders, respiratory conditions, and behavioral changes, resulting in sleep disorders and involving endocrine and neurological systems, thus becoming a causative agent of disease.
The emergence of minimally invasive surgical techniques, endoscopic procedures, interventional radiology, and need for anesthetic care during radiological examinations was followed by increased exposure to ionizing radiation and its consequences. Ionizing radiation is emitted by X-rays and radioactive isotopes that release gamma rays or α and β particles. It differs from the non-ionizing radiation – represented by a laser beam -and may cause changes as a result of the heat it produces.
Ionizing radiation promotes the formation of free radicals in irradiated tissues, ionized molecules, and cell destruction, as well as the possibility of chromosomal changes and development of malignant tumors. There are changes in the DNA double helix, which can be point mutations, chromosomal translocations and gene fusions. All these changes are related to the onset of malignancy.
Exposure to ionizing radiation is cumulative and requires constant dosimetry measurements. There is no knowledge of a safe dosage below which the induction of malignancy does not occur. Thus, preventive measures regarding radiation exposure should be established.
Protection from radiation is mandatory through measures such as education about the risks related to radiation; use of barriers such as lead aprons down to the knees, which provide gonadal protection, glasses with protective lenses to protect the retina and cervical collars to protect the thyroid. Maintaining a minimum distance of 90 cm from the primary source of ionizing radiation emission promotes a complete reduction of primary radiation exposure.
Working environment temperature is another risk that increases the possibility of physical accidents caused by exposure to both low and high temperatures, leading to discomfort with thermal effect on the ability of concentration and attention of anesthesiologists, impairing patient monitoring.
Chemical hazards is an example of occupational hazard which exposure to chemicals in the workplace may cause. Victims can suffer acute or long-term negative health effects.
There are hundreds of hazardous chemicals, including immune agents, dermatologic agents, carcinogens, neurotoxins, and reproductive toxins. Asthmagens, sensitizers, and systemic toxins are also hazardous chemicals.
According to Wikipedia:
“Long-term exposure to chemicals such as silica dust, engine exhausts, tobacco smoke, and lead (among others) have been shown to increase risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure.”
Biological hazards or biohazards refer to biological substances that threaten the health of human beings and other living organisms. This type of hazard may include samples of a toxin of a biological source, a virus, or a microorganism. Specifically, samples that harm human health.
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Anesthesiologists are exposed to the risk of infection transmission during contact with the patients and their secretions.
The main diseases with risk of transmission into the environment are hepatitis B and C, herpes virus and HIV. Glove contamination during venipuncture procedures occurs in 18% of cases, which represents a high risk of exposure to infectious agents if gloves are not used.
Workplace adequacy to the anesthesiologist consists of ergonomically adjusting the OR. The height of the anesthesia machine, operating table, side tables, and monitors should be adjusted to the anesthesiologist’s height.
Awkward postures during work are responsible for developing spinal diseases such as herniated discs and lumbar muscle contractions, which may lead to absence from work. Attitudes such as the adequacy of the operating table height for performing vascular punctures, neuraxial anesthesia, and tracheal intubation, among others, minimize the risk of developing these diseases.
Thus, the ergonomic design of the workplace is relevant to reduce the risk of accidents and occupational diseases.
Psychosocial hazards are occupational hazards that affect employees’ psychological health. These hazards affect their ability to take part in a work environment with other colleagues.
Psychosocial hazards are associated with how the work was designed, organized, and managed. They are also related to the social and economic contexts of the work. Patients suffer psychological or psychiatric injury or illness. Some also suffer physical injury or illness.
Workplace violence and occupational stress, for example, are psychosocial hazards.
How to Prevent Occupational Hazards
Here are a few ways through which you can keep your workplace hazard free.
Identify the risks at your workplace: The first thing that you need to do is to check your work place for potential hazards. This includes thoroughly and carefully checking all the electrical appliances, electrical wires and machinery within the organisation. See if any equipment needs repairs and get it repaired as soon as possible. If the machinery is too old and has the potential to cause an accident, then you should replace it.
Reduce Noise at Your Workplace: In many factories, workers are exposed to high decibels of noise caused by the machinery. Prolonged exposure to such loud noises can cause hearing defects in many workers. So make sure that you try and reduce the noise elements at your workplace. You should also provide your workers with protective gear to combat this problem and train all your employees to use the protective gear effectively. This is essential because if not used in the right manner, these gears won’t help protect the workers from potential harm.
Try to Reduce Environmental Stress: The working environment plays an important role in the overall productivity of any employee. If employees are exposed to severe working conditions, then their physical as well as physiological well-being is affected adversely. If the nature of your work demands your employees to work under fluctuating temperature conditions and if they are frequently exposed to poisonous chemicals, then you need to ensure that your workers wear protective gear at all time. It is also advisable to give them proper safety gear and train them to use it effectively.
Conduct Regular Checks and Mock Drills: If you must prevent occupational hazard in the workplace, it is very essential that you conduct regular checks and mock drills every 3 months or so. Maintaining your machinery well is the most elementary part of ensuring safety at your workplace. So you need to check these at regular intervals. You could also consider getting PAT testing done. PAT testing is a simple procedure and will help you maintain electrical safety with your workplace. Mock drills on the other hand, will help your employees deal with an emergency in a calm and collected manner. So make sure you conduct mock fire drills at your workplace at least once in 6 months.