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5 Types of Occupational Diseases and How to Prevent Them

Posted by Xamax on 19/06/18 15:18

Coming into contact with hazardous materials at work can lead to significant health problems later in life. It’s your responsibility to make sure these encounters are controlled and that workers receive the right protective equipment. Here are five types of occupational diseases that staff can develop if they aren’t protected in the workplace.

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Lung Disease

Thousands of people die from work-related lung diseases each year in the UK. For many people, the damage was done years ago when they inhaled certain dusts, fumes or gases in the workplace.

Breathing in these materials can lead to serious, long-term lung diseases like asbestosis, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), silicosis, asthma and cancer.

Certain industries and job roles are more at risk than others. Anyone working in construction, stoneworking, textiles or welding can be especially at risk of contracting a lung disease but there are some you might not expect like farming and hairdressing.

Farmers and other agricultural workers can be exposed to dust during the handling of grain, mixing animal feedstuffs or feeding animals. Vapours from chemical materials often found on a farm can also be hazardous to lungs and lead to asthma or chronic bronchitis.

For those working in construction, there are a number of lung diseases that you need to be aware of, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and occupational asthma. Cutting stones, clearing rubble, screening demolition material and surface grinding can all create harmful dusts that can be harmful if not properly controlled.

 

How to Prevent This

There are specific guidelines that you should implement to protect your staff from inhaling harmful substances, particularly if they’ll be working with asbestos. Asbestos is the biggest occupational disease risk to construction workers and you need to ensure workers are effectively protected.

Conducting thorough risk assessments, educating workers about the dangers of inhaling hazardous substances and the provision of masks and other safety equipment can all reduce the risk of a worker contracting lung disease.

 

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is one of the most serious types of occupational disease and can be a risk for anyone who has spent time in shipbuilding, lead smelting, pottery glazing, stripping paint or plumbing. Breathing in lead dust can eventually lead to serious health issues like infertility, kidney disease and brain damage.

When lead is absorbed, it circulates in the bloodstream before accumulating in your bones. Workers who have absorbed lead can go many years before symptoms like nausea, weight loss, memory issues or stomach pains start to show.

 

How to Prevent This

Not only can lead be absorbed through breathing, it can be swallowed through drinking, eating, smoking or biting your nails. It’s important to make sure that you provide a designated eating area for anyone working with lead and ensure they thoroughly wash their hands before eating.

By carrying out regular risk assessments, equipment maintenance and staff training, you can control the exposure of lead and reduce the risk of your workers inhaling it. You’ll need to make sure their work environment is spacious and effectively ventilated.

 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Repetitive hand motions and awkward wrist positions can increase the pressure on the nerves and tendons in the carpal tunnel. Anyone can be at risk of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome if they carry out the same tasks each day with their hands.

Cashiers, hairdressers, knitters and factory workers can all develop Carpal Tunnel Syndrome if they don’t take the necessary precautions. It is a condition that can affect any person of any age, including mechanics using screwdrivers, musicians playing an instrument with a bow and assembly workers using hand tools.  

Someone with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome usually experiences tingling in the fingers, a loss of manual dexterity and shoulder pain. It can prevent the sufferer from sleeping and from carrying out their usual tasks at work.

 

How to Prevent This

The easiest way for you to ensure your staff aren’t at risk of developing the condition is by evaluating their work environment and daily tasks. Are they putting their hands or wrists in awkward positions?

Redesign their work stations to reduce the pressure placed on their hands and educate staff about the dangers of repetitive movements. Speaking to them shows you care about their wellbeing and helps to enforce a culture of safety.

 

Computer Vision Syndrome

Working at a desk all day brings a different set of risks for staff. Although they’re less likely to develop a skin or lung disease, long periods of time spent staring at a computer screen can lead to serious eye conditions.

If a person is complaining of eye strain, headaches, muscle aches, blurred vision, eye irritation or dry eyes, then they could be suffering from Computer Vision Syndrome.

 

How to Prevent This

Poor lighting, seating posture and improper viewing distance can all force our eyes to work harder and need to strain. Glare on a digital screen or monitor can also cause our eyes to struggle so it’s important to take steps to ensure each worker’s setup is correct.

Once you’ve corrected their workstation to ensure their eyes aren’t having to strain, there is special eyewear available that can reduce glare and make it easier for our eyes to cope with long hours in front of the screen.

Educate staff on the dangers of staring at a screen all day and make suggestions on how to reduce risks, like not looking at a screen before bed in the dark. By fixing their setup and encouraging staff to take regular breaks, you can reduce the risks of Computer Vision Syndrome.

 

Skin Conditions

Skin conditions are very common for anyone working with detergents, acids, wet cement or oils. Any exposure to strong irritants or prolonged contact with water can lead to issues like dermatitis, urticaria and even skin cancer.

Industries like catering, hairdressing, construction and printing are especially at risk of workers developing skin conditions. Dermatitis can be especially common with symptoms including redness, blistering, weeping and swelling.

Even washing your hands more than 20 times in a day can cause issues, a particular concern for those working in the health industry. Speak to your staff and find out which chemicals and liquids they come into contact with on a daily basis.

 

How to Prevent This

HSE advise the APC approach when it comes to preventing skin disease at work.

  • Avoid - make sure staff avoid direct contact with substances, products and wet work. If possible, find an alternative material that is less harmful and remove it altogether.
  • Protect - safety gloves can protect the skin from contamination and irritation. Wash hands before drinking and eating.
  • Check - by checking for conditions, like itchy, dry or red skin, you can spot the early signs of dermatitis and other issues.

Following these steps can reduce the contact that staff members have with harmful substances and protect them from developing harmful skin conditions in the future.

 

Keep Your Workers Protected This Summer

Whatever the job, there are many types of occupational diseases that you need to be aware of. PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) may be necessary so it’s important to have all the information you need to keep staff members safe. Download a free copy of our Summer Workwear eBook now for expert advice on the dangers that workers face and how you can protect them.

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