“Don’t go in there!” You hear it all the time in movie theaters — audiences yell it whenever the hero in a horror movie decides to investigate a particularly dark basement or walk down an especially spooky hallway. YOU might know better, but the character in the film ignores common sense and walks right into a trap.
Workplace safety can be like that, too. We may think we know the difference between risky and safe behaviors, but sometimes we “go in there” anyway. That’s when accidents are more likely to happen.
We talked to Aerotek Regional Safety Manager John Swartos to learn more about common workplace safety practices to keep in mind before you find yourself in a frightening situation.
Wear your gear
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is a last line of defense between employees and injuries. Take care of it — don’t be like the movie actor whose flashlight runs out of batteries at the worst possible time. And if you’re in a workplace where goggles, ear plugs, hard hats, gloves or other protective wear is required, wear them.
John Swartos stressed the high stakes of a workplace injury: “I’ll often ask, ‘How would it affect you if you got injured at work and you weren’t able to throw the ball around with your kid or go fishing?’ A lot of times that message lands more solidly than nagging, to let people know that it’s not just workplace safety, but something that affects your life.”
Another way to prevent work injuries is by building a work culture that values safety first. Swartos explains, “It doesn’t just have to be the manager or the supervisor. Everybody should be empowered to be their brother’s keeper. If you’re working elbow-to-elbow with somebody who’s not wearing their PPE, we want people to take safety seriously and say, ‘Hey, you know, that’s not how we do things.’”
Slow down and do it right
In the movies, you might see a character decide to take a shortcut through a haunted forest or across a rickety bridge. Shortcuts in the workplace can be just as treacherous.
“I see a lot of injuries that are a result of people cutting corners,” says Swartos. “If I could prevent one thing, it would be that. Also using the right tools for the right job is big. Just the other day I heard about somebody who injured themselves using a screwdriver as a chisel; it wasn’t the right tool for the task.”
Regardless of the pressure you find yourself under, it’s always better in the long run to take the extra time to do things the right way.
Safe lifting practices
You see it in the movies all the time — a character charges ahead, saying “Stay here, I’ve got this,” right before something bad happens. Lifting is no time to get cocky, and it’s more than just “lifting with your legs, not your back.”
“Often companies will set a safe lifting limit at 40 or 50 pounds,” says Swartos. “Unfortunately, not everyone is physically capable of that. An employee might look perfectly healthy, but just have an issue with their back or their neck. And it’s not just whether or not you can lift something — how often, how much or how long can have just as big an impact on whether or not you’re lifting safely.”
If you’re struggling or feeling discomfort related to lifting on the job, say something. Swartos comments, “We’re always encouraging people to ask for help, and to use mechanical assistance wherever possible to make lifting easier on them.”
How often do you see a character in a movie ignore small signs that, in retrospect, seem obvious? The eyes in an old portrait follow them as they walk by, the wind blows through the drapes of an open window, the headline of the morning paper reads “madman on the loose.” Attention to the small details of workplace ergonomics — the way you interact with the things you use at work — can be like that.
“Little things like extra padding on mouse pads or in front of keyboards can take stress away from the pressure points in your wrists or your elbows,” explains Swartos. “Everybody’s different. Some people need their monitor a little higher. Some people need a special mouse. The trick with ergonomics is if you can be proactive and catch it soon enough, you can prevent long-term serious injuries from occurring.”
Another aspect of workplace ergonomics that can get easily overlooked is sedentary work styles. Swartos says, “Often people get glued to their computer and they lose track of time. So we ask them to download free software that will pop up and remind them to stand up and stretch. Or use little tricks like rather than having a big one gallon water container that you keep at your desk, use a smaller cup so you have to get up and walk over to the water cooler more often.”
Most important, however, is that you speak up when you feel your job taking a physical toll. As Swartos recommends, “Employees need to feel confident and comfortable with raising their hands and saying, ‘You know, I’m uncomfortable.’”
Working with a recruiting partner like Aerotek can help. Look to your local contacts for workplace ergonomics suggestions.
Cold and flu season
You’re not likely to confront zombies or body snatchers in the workplace, but minor illnesses such as the cold and flu, or physical fatigue can drag you down. Injuries are one thing, but general wellness can be just as important.
Familiarize yourself with the illness policy at every job you find yourself in. Swartos notes, “Most clients realize that it’s better to have one person off work than to affect half the team, particularly in call centers and office environments where people are in close quarters.”
Also, take care of yourself while you’re not at work, and make sure you’re getting sufficient hydration, rest and nutrition. According to Swartos, “A lot of times the contractor’s home life affects their work life. A perfect example is the guy that gets off work on Friday and goes on a video game bender over the weekend, drinking energy drinks and eating pizzas, then he gets to work on Monday and he’s dragging.
When you show up to work, that can be when the problems begin.”
Of course, scary movies are different than workplace safety in one major respect: in the real world, inattention to important details can have very real consequences. All the more reason to keep these safe work habits in mind, and make sure you “don’t go in there.”
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