In 2010, there were 14.7 cases of work-related injuries per 1000 employed Canadians. Men tend to have more work-related injuries than women, and the types of jobs reporting the highest number of injuries involved construction and manufacturing. But there are several ways you can hurt yourself at work, and not all of them are obvious. Here are some things to look out for.
You may be at risk for repetitive strain injuries if you use the same joints and muscle groups too often, too fast, or for a long period of time. For example, using a computer mouse for long periods of time can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Make sure to take regular breaks from anything repetitive and to stretch and move your muscles in different ways. You may also want to try varying the way you do the task. For instance, you may try a stylus in place of a mouse.
In a similar fashion, you can strain your eye muscles by focusing on one spot for a long period of time, such as when using a computer. This can lead to vision problems and headaches. When working on a computer for extended time periods, remember to give your eyes regular rest breaks by focusing on an object several feet away for at least 20 seconds at a time.
Working in the same position for a long time may put you at risk of injuries. Working in a standing position for a long time can cause sore feet, varicose veins, muscle tiredness, and lower back pain. If your workstation is not properly designed, it may force you to stand in an unnatural way, which can lead to injury. If you are seated all day, you may develop hemorrhoids and a habit of slouching, which can be bad for your back. Check your posture often, and stretch and move around at regular intervals.
Lifting heavy objects – or not-so-heavy objects if they’re lifted many times – can cause muscle fatigue and strain, not just in the arms but also in the back. You’ve heard it before: lift from the legs, and keep your back as straight as possible when lifting. As well, carry heavy objects close to your body. Better yet, carry them on a cart. How heavy is “heavy”? When you’re in even the slightest doubt about the weight of an object, treat it as heavy – don’t be a show-off. Consider wearing a back brace or support belt when doing heavy lifting.
If you drive a bus or a truck or use power tools, you are at risk for vibration-related injuries, such as loss of feeling in your hands and arms. Give yourself a break every so often, and try using padded materials – for example, seat cushions or padded gloves – to reduce the vibration.
Naturally, things that are too hot can cause burns. But cold can also be a problem. If you handle cold materials, your hand may become numb. When that happens, you are likely to apply more force than you normally would, which may result in an injury. In addition, your body becomes less flexible when you work in a cold environment, which also increases your risk of injury.
Chemicals such as cleaning products, bleaches, paint, and other corrosive substances can cause chemical skin burns. Corrosive materials can damage exposed areas of the body, such as the skin or eyes. If you inhale chemical fumes, you can damage your respiratory or digestive tract. Some chemicals can also catch fire easily – or explode. Make sure you know the potential hazards of the chemicals that you are working with. Look for warnings on the labels of all substances you handle; some that might not seem dangerous are. Always handle corrosive materials carefully. Use a proper ventilation system, such as a fume hood, wear protective clothing, and avoid skin contact. Learn how to properly store, handle, and dispose of chemicals, and what to do in case of a spill.
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