Over 4,000 people are killed at work each year and more are injured or contract illnesses due to workplace hazards. Interestingly, something as simple as safe distance between you and another person or object can improve safety in the workspace. According to Alpert Schreyer, the goal of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is to ‘protect workers from known workplace hazards and common on-the-job injuries by requiring certain kinds of equipment and protections.’
Safety Hazards are Everywhere
The most common type of workplace hazard is unsafe working conditions like slipping and tripping, working from heights, unguarded machinery, and electrical hazards. When there are no controls in place to protect a worker from a hazard, his or her best protection is to stay away from it.
Biological Hazards Can Make You Sick!
Working with animals, people, or infectious plant materials exposes employees to viruses and bacteria. It is imperative that a safe distance remains between the worker and the specimen at hand. Of course, barriers like gloves and face or respiratory protection offer that protective distance.
You May Not Even Know You're Being Harmed
Some hazards in the workplace environment can harm workers without them having to physically touch them, so a safe distance may not always be apparent. These include radiation, extremely hot or cold temperatures, and constant loud noises. With physical hazards like these, following safety guidelines about appropriate distance and using protective barriers can save a worker's body from harm.
Chemical Hazards Are Not Always Predictable
Being exposed to chemical preparations in solid, liquid, or gas form can put a worker at risk for illnesses, skin irritation, and breathing issues. Without enough distance or protective equipment, workers may be up close and personal with acids, corrosives, flammable mixtures, and fumes.
Ergonomic Hazards Often Hide Their Effects
So many workers are affected by ergonomic hazards and don't even know it until they develop problems later. Safe distances can even help these workers avoid the body movements or positions that put a strain on the body.
When Distance Won't Get the Job Done
Understanding the hazards that come with dangerous jobs is necessary for safety at work. However, when it's necessary to get close to hazards, your last line of defense is quality personal protection equipment (PPE). With good safety gear, workers can avoid injury, infection, inhalation, burns, falls, and even electrocution.
The four leading causes of work-related death are falls, electrocution, crushed-bys, and caught-in/betweens. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration points out that if the "fatal four" could be eliminated, about 600 fewer workers would lose their lives each year. Keeping a safe distance and using good safety gear go hand-in-hand to increase safety in the workspace.