Hidden Dangers in Your Work Environment
Apr 07, 2010
As a responsible business person, you've probably already spent some time evaluating workplace safety and creating a work environment that is as safe as possible. Restaurant and retail store owners, for example, rarely install new flooring without considering how slippery the material will be and what risk it might present to employees and customers alike. Other dangers, however, are more difficult to identify and can escape the attention of even diligent business owners. With this in mind, here are the three biggest, hidden dangers to a safe work environment.
Electrical Safety and Fire Hazards
According to the National Fire Protection Association, electrical fires continually rank in the top five causes of commercial building fires in such diverse businesses as manufacturing plants and farming operations, warehouses and restaurants. Electrical malfunctions caused $34 million in property losses to medical facilities from 2004-2006; warehouses saw $14.9 million in similar losses between 2003 and 2006. To create effective electrical safety in the workplace, you need to first know that your electrical wiring and circuits are equipped to handle the electrical loads used by your business. Regular inspections conducted by a qualified electrician are also necessary to ensure ongoing electrical safety. Moreover, you need to make your employees aware of electrical safety guidelines as well as how to identify fire hazards. The U.S. Labor Department has several educational tools on electrical safety, including the small business handbook on electrical safety.
Ventilation and Sick Building Syndrome
Also known as multiple chemical sensitivity, sick building syndrome is the showing of symptoms believed to be related to harmful contaminants within a building. A 1984 World Health Organization Committee report suggested that up to 30 percent of new and remodeled buildings worldwide may be the subject of excessive complaints related to indoor air quality. Needless to say, a twenty-six year-old study doesn't hold a lot of news-worthiness anymore, and many doctors don't even recognize sick building syndrome as a legitimate diagnosis. Yet, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that about one-third of people working in sealed buildings claim to be sensitive to one or more common chemicals. And whether sick building syndrome is a legitimate disorder or not, you need to be concerned with mold and indoor air pollution in the workplace. Fortunately, the primary solution is the same: Make sure your building has adequate ventilation. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air Conditioning Engineers, your ventilation system should at a minimum complete 8.4 air exchange cycles every 24 hours. If you're not sure your building has this ventilating capacity, then it's time to call a HVAC contractor and schedule an inspection. While air ventilation is important, don't forget that any chemicals or products used within a confined office space can often be the source of sick building syndrome.
Security Cameras and Workplace Violence
When it comes to the workplace, it probably comes as little surprise that the biggest hidden danger is the behavior of employees themselves. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, sadly there were 610 workplace homicides and more than a million workplace assaults in 2007. But what is surprising to many is that experts estimate that 75-85% of these incidents are motivated by robbery, not malcontent. In this sense, security cameras offer a multi-purpose fix that can protect your business from employee theft and create a safer work environment at the same time. That said, in most situations, security cameras should be used in a limited capacity. Over-monitoring employees, just to catch some who have a habit of distracting themselves with solitaire can do more harm than good. Security cameras that are perceived by employees as Big Brother constantly looking over their shoulder can actually serve as the basis by which an employee rationalizes stealing from the company.
So the next time your thinking about safety, don't forget to take a second look at that 'bird's nest' of wiring under your desk, the ductwork overhead and the existence or absence of cameras in the break room.