Occupational Hazards To Be On The Lookout For In 2018

by Meg Whynot Young & Karen Sanborn


Occupational Hazard # 1- Driving

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) in 2016 the fatality rate of employees rose involving a task, so many of us take for granted— driving.

One out of every four workplace accidents involved Commercial drivers in 2016, and this rate is likely to go higher. Here are some things to consider when incorporating driving safety into your health and safety plan.

Are you talking to your drivers about driving safely:  to choose routes to minimize dangerous intersections or traffic congestion? 
Do your drivers know how to spot hazards well before their vehicle is involved in the incident?  
Do you know the driving history of those you put on the road for your business? 
Do your drivers know how you want them to drive:  without distractions, within the speed and lane restrictions? Courteously?
Did you know that keeping a safe following distance not only prevents vehicle accidents, but it also saves fuel and reduces stress?

Occupational Hazard #2 – Drug Use in the Workplace

According to the CDC opioids now cause more deaths than breast cancer. In 2016 there were over 63,000 opioid-related overdoses in the US.


Then there are the synthetic opioids being used illicitly on the streets, like Fentanyl and Tramadol, two drugs used by hospitals to control pain usually during or after surgery. Much of the Fentanyl found on the streets of New England today is manufactured in Mexico using ingredients from China. The strength of these drugs and the inconsistent levels in which they are mixed with other drugs and materials are more likely to cause fatal overdoses. Essentially, there is no way to tell how powerful a drug found on the street is until it is used. And then it is often too late.


There are two occupational concerns with the rise in opioid use. The first being workers on the job while under the influence. Often an opioid addiction will start with an injury and being prescribed a legal opioid medication by a doctor for pain management, the prescription runs out, and they turn to their local heroin dealer to keep feeding the addiction. Sometimes that cycle begins with an on the job injury. Regardless, the number of drug-addicted workers has increased and must be something your safety program has to be equipped to address, not only for the health and safety of the addicted individual, but anyone else who is working with them.


The second is the danger that it presents to first responders who are responding to an overdose call or those who are otherwise engaged in drug/law enforcement. Blood borne pathogens and needle sticks have always been a clear and present danger for first responders. First responders and those who handle evidence should take special precautions when performing the task at hand, including wearing the correct PPE for the job.  


So how can you make sure that your safety plan is equipped to handle the rise in this epidemic?


Educate. Make sure that you have Reasonable Suspicion training for at least your managers, although we do encourage you to train as much of your staff as possible. There’s more out there than just opioids, and any drug or alcohol use on the job can cause significant hazards. People should be aware of the signs of drug and alcohol use, and sometimes it won’t be a manager but a friend and coworker who will spot the problem first.
Drug test. No one wants to be big brother, but now many contracts require you to drug test your employees particularly in healthcare and construction. This is standard practice and a hugely important line of defense in ensuring the safety of your workers. United Alliance Services offers drug tests onsite for onboarding new employees, random drug testing, and for DOT programs.
PPE selection. Your employees should have ready access to the correct personal protective equipment for the job, first responders, hospital workers, law enforcement, DPW workers, and other state and municipal workers who may come into contact with individuals who use drugs or drug-related materials must know what is the correct PPE to use, where to find it, and how to safely take it on and off without contaminating themselves. When respirators are required, employees must be fit tested and given respiratory awareness training. NIOSH provides some helpful information on PPE selection and other topics related to opioid and Fentanyl exposure in the workplace.  
Educate more. Make sure that your staff has the appropriate training for the hazards that drugs and alcohol may present to them on the job. In addition to Reasonable Suspicion training, we recommend; Blood Borne Pathogens & Needlestick Prevention, GHS Hazard Communication, Respiratory Awareness and Fit Testing, First Aid and CPR, and Workplace Violence.


Occupational Hazard #3- Workplace Violence


Another disturbing trend on the rise is workplace violence. We have seen a slight increase in workplace homicides since 2013 with a total of 417 in 2015.  There are several occupations where workplace violence is a serious concern, and those with the greatest risk may not be who you think.

Workplace homicide statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: “First-line supervisors of retail sales workers (40 fatalities), cashiers (35 fatalities), police and sheriff’s patrol officers (34 fatalities), and taxi drivers (27 fatalities) were the occupations with the greatest number of homicides in 2015.”

Thankfully, not all workplace violence ends in death, but that makes the problem even more widespread statistically speaking.

In 2016 the health care and social assistance industries account for the highest number of non-fatal injuries in the workplace.  From OSHA.gov: “From 2002 to 2013, the rate of serious workplace violence incidents (those requiring days off for an injured worker to recuperate) was more than four times greater in healthcare than in private industry on average. In fact, healthcare accounts for nearly as many serious violent injuries as all other industries combined.”

So how can you stay ahead of this trend? Workplace Violence training is an essential part of your health and safety plan, but here are some other things you’ll want to make sure are in place:

Security. Make sure your employees know who to call and how to get in touch with security personnel in a potentially violent situation.
Lighting and Surveillance. This is particularly important for retail workers and even taxi drivers. Passively making sure that potential assailants are aware that they are on camera is a good thing. Signs, well-lit areas, and cameras can all deter violence.
Background checks. Know who is working for you and if they have a criminal history.
Shift coverage. It is especially important for late and overnight shifts to have sufficient coverage. Most potential attackers can be deterred if there are plenty of people around. Having sufficient coverage can also help diffuse any potential problems that can arise from slow service due to understaffing.
Building and environment integrity. Locked doors, gates and fences all help to increase security. Make sure that there are highly protected protocols in place for granting and revoking access to secured areas as well as personal information about your employees.
Limit cash on hand. Because robbery is a major contributing factor, not having large amounts of cash and valuables is important for worker safety.
Active Shooter Training. This is a worst-case scenario, but it is better to be prepared than unprepared.


If you have any questions about driving safety, drug and alcohol use in the workplace, or workplace violence give us a call. We can help you make sure your safety program adequately addresses these and many other topics, and that you are ready for the 2018 work year!