An occupational disease – or illness picked up at work – can have detrimental effects on your staff’s morale, health, safety, and even their presence in your operational environment. Unlike an occupational injury, it’s not always immediately obvious that it’s an issue which needs treatment. In addition, the causes of occupational diseases are often invisible.
But an occupational disease affects an employees’ ability to do their job and can adversely impact your company’s bottom line.
So, which occupational diseases are the most persistent, how can you tell when your team has one, and how can you defend against them?
Lung diseases can be a particularly troublesome occupational health hazard. Beyond asthma and allergic reactions, diseases such as silicosis, byssinosis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and asbestosis have long proven problematic for workers. Asbestos fibers – and other chemical fibres – do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water. As a result, these fibers can enter the air and water from the weathering of natural deposits and the wearing down of manufactured products containing these chemicals. These fibers are often very light, which means that they can float in the air for long periods of time. For example, it can take 48 – 72 hours for asbestos fibers to fall in a still room. In a room with air currents, these fibers may stay in the air much longer. When the fibers are in the air, they can be breathed in.
Asbestos is now banned across Europe, and awareness of its dangers has increased. But many workers are still adversely affected by chemicals and toxins they inhale in their workplace.
This has a lot to do with indoor air quality. The poorer it is, the more likely it is to have negative effects on the lungs. So, the more you can do to get rid of dangerous dust-like particles in the workplace, the less likely your team will be to experience lung ailments.
Lung disease isn’t the only concern. Occupational diseases can also adversely affect the skin. Industrial dermatitis can be especially troubling. It occurs when skin comes into contact with irritants and allergens such as cement, metals (e.g nickel and chromium) and resins. Latex is also a common cause of allergic dermatitis. It can even result in chronic dermatitis.
But it’s also possible for skin diseases to occur without any specific irritants: if your skin is wet for long stretches of time, it could conceivably cause issues. Eczema, sunburn, and even skin cancer can result from poor working conditions.
Toxins and chemicals can have a bad impact on an employee’s nervous system. Toxins from chemical fumes, pesticides and other environmental hazards can lead to neurological disorders and even brain damage. In some cases, these toxins can injure the brain directly and cause numbness, headaches, lightheadedness, and fatigue. Others can cause indirect harm by preventing normal levels of oxygen from reaching the brain. Long term, this can cause migraines, or even lead to a loss of control in the limbs
CTS can occur when your employees are using vibrating tools or otherwise doing activities that put undue pressure on their hands. It can cause pain, tingling, and numbness in fingers, and symptoms can start gradually.
The pain can eventually extend up the entire arm, and it can cause loss of grip – and even cause thumb muscles to waste away.
Occupational diseases are often preventable – if you take the right measures to protect you and your staff. If you see at-risk areas, try to mitigate or remove this risk wherever possible. Keep an eye on your staff to see if they have any of the symptoms listed, it is important that they see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you are concerned about your staff coming into contact with dangerous fibers that they can inhale or that touch their skin, check the materials that they are working with and if anyone is using vibrating tools, make sure they aren’t using them for too long.
Above all, make sure your air is as clean as possible. The invisible factors that cause occupational diseases are often airborne – deal with them as soon as possible and you’ll have a healthier workplace and happier staff.