Workplace Health

A small group of warehouse workers standing in a large distribution center

In any field, there’s a need for attention to on-the-job safety. Employees are often susceptible to accidents and repetitive injuries. There are many ways employers and employees can create a safety-first work environment.

Workers should adhere to safety guidelines whenever possible. Don’t take shortcuts that undermine safety!

Any damage to the musculoskeletal system falls under orthopedics. This includes injuries to:

  • Bones
  • Joints
  • Ligaments
  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Tendons

Physicians focus on recovery from and prevention of orthopedic injuries. 

  • BONE FRACTURES: The human body has 206 strong bones to protect it. Excessive force can break bones, resulting in a fracture. Americans suffer from 7 million broken bones each year.


  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Exercise and follow a diet with adequate calcium and vitamin D
  • Prevent slips and falls by cleaning spills immediately
    • Use signs to warn of a wet floor
    • Ask for handrails in heavily trafficked areas of stairs
    • Consider non-slip shoes or soles if applicable
  • Practice safe play and work
  • SPRAINS: These are injuries to ligaments, which are fibrous, connective tissue that binds bones together. Sprains occur when joints are forced out of regular position, leading to stretches or tears. The ankle is the most common place for a sprain.
  • STRAINS: They’re injuries to muscles or tendons, which connect bones to muscles. They can become pulled, stretched, or torn. Athletes are especially at risk for strains, particularly of the back and hamstrings.


  • Practice a healthy diet to maintain a healthy weight
  • Follow an exercise plan to strengthen ligaments, muscles, and tendons
  • Exercise or play only if you’re in condition for it and are not fatigued or injured
  • Use appropriate equipment and safety gear
  • Warm up and stretch before playing or working out
  • Wear properly fitting shoes and replace worn-out athletic shoes
  • CUTS: Employees sometimes suffer injuries from work supplies. Common culprits include:
    • Box cutters
    • Letter openers
    • Sharp edges on office equipment

Severity varies from inconvenience to time missed from work.


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Be sure you’re trained to use tools
  • Keep office equipment and furniture in good condition
  • Limit what tools employees can use and where
  • COLLISIONS AND CRASHES: These can vary from forklift accidents to representatives visiting clients in personal or company cars. Usually, collisions in small mobile machines or vehicles aren’t covered in commercial vehicle insurance if the worker is on the job. So these claims can increase workers’ compensation insurance costs.


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Stay current on equipment training
  • Take breaks when you’re tired on the road

To treat an injury or in order to avoid a repeat of one, physical therapy can help. It does so through means other than medications or surgery. This can include occupational therapy, which helps patients return to regular activity. 

  • REHABILITATION: This seeks to return a patient to as close to normal function as possible. Physiatrists, doctors who specialize in rehabilitation medicine, can help. So too can:
    • Nurses
    • Occupational therapists
    • Physical therapists
    • Speech therapists

Ear and eye work injuries

Working outdoors

Many people consider a job that doesn’t confine them to an office a win — and it can be, with some precautions.

  • EYES AND SUN: Skin protection is essential, but the eyes should also get attention. Eye protection is essential to preserving sight, especially our vision at night.


  • Wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays
  • Ensure a snug and comfortable fit
  • Avoid looking at the sun

Office work

This section will cover jobs that require employees to sit for prolonged periods. Especially with screen time, physical problems can arise, such as:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Musculoskeletal issues

Preventive measures can help ease these problems before you need medical attention.

  • COMPUTERS AND WORK: Eyestrain won’t cause damage to the eyes, but it should be addressed. An eye exam can rule out diseases and determine whether you need a new prescription.


  • Adjust the height of your computer screen so that you don’t have to tilt your head down. This causes tension in your neck
  • Reduce screen brightness to minimize glare
  • Take breaks if you work with phones or tablets to avoid muscle fatigue while holding them
  • Rest. Relax periodically and gently stretch neck muscles. Don’t stare at your screen without blinking
  • DRY EYE: Tears keep the eye moist, wash away irritants, and help wounds heal. If there are insufficient or poor-quality tears present, dry eye occurs. It presents as irritated eyes, with some impaired vision.


  • Adjust monitor brightness to reduce glare
  • Blink more often
  • Consult your doctor about medications you take to check for adverse effects
  • FITNESS AT WORK: Long hours at a sedentary job make staying active challenging. There are ways to fit nutrition and fitness into your day. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.



  • Choose hotels with fitness centers and pools when traveling
  • Get off the bus a few blocks early and walk to work or home
  • Schedule exercise time and honor it
  • Stand while talking on the telephone
  • Start or take part in sports teams at work
  • Stretch and move throughout the day
  • Use half your lunch break for a walk
  • Walk to meet someone rather than using the telephone
  • Walk up the stairs instead of riding the elevator
  • Work out before or after work to avoid traffic at lunchtime


  • Add a glass of skim milk or yogurt for more calcium
  • Add a salad or vegetable if you’re eating frozen meals
  • Prep healthy meals the night before so they’re ready to consume
  • Seek frozen dinners with less than 15 grams of fat and 800 milligrams of sodium
  • EYE INJURY: Americans suffer one million eye injuries a year, and many are preventable. Personal protection equipment, such as goggles, could prevent many injuries. Sports and chemical burns are also common forms of eye injury.


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Reduce hazards before starting. Use preventive items such as machine guards or work screens
  • Workplace eye safety hazards should be understood
  • Choose proper eye protection:
    • In areas with dust, flying objects, or particles, wear safety glasses with side shields
    • If you work with chemicals, wear goggles
    • Near hazardous radiation (fiber optics, lasers, or welding), use special-purpose equipment:
      • Face shields
      • Goggles
      • Helmets designed for that task
      • Safety glasses

Twenty-eight million Americans are hearing impaired. This is according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. The severity ranges from reduced sensitivity to sounds to complete loss. Some hearing loss isn’t correctable.


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Have your hearing checked (every year, if you work in a noisy environment, such as a factory)
  • Increase the distance between you and the noise source
  • Insert foam earplugs according to the instructions
  • Keep the volume of earbuds or headphones at a safe level, and only in areas that aren’t noisy
  • Spend less time in noisy places
  • Wear hearing protection in noisy environments

In our jobs, we can sometimes come into contact with elements that can harm our health. Safety precautions and knowledge of immediate treatment are crucial to minimizing their effects. Chemicals, blood, and body fluids are common exposure risks.

  • BLOOD EXPOSURE: Bloodborne pathogens are microorganisms that cause disease and are in human blood. They include but aren’t limited to, HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), HBV (hepatitis B virus), and HCV (hepatitis C virus.) They’re commonly spread through contact with:
    • Broken skin with blood
    • Cuts, or needlesticks from used needles
    • Eyes
    • Mouth
    • Nose


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Clean work surfaces with germicidal products
  • Dispose of used sharps promptly into an appropriate disposal container
  • Get the hepatitis B vaccine
  • Read and understand your employer’s exposure control plan
  • Use sharps devices with safety features whenever possible
  • Use personal protective equipment, such as gloves and face shields, every time there is a potential for exposure to blood or body fluids
  • BODY FLUIDS: It’s an occupational hazard for healthcare workers especially. As with blood exposure, body fluids present a risk of spreading infectious diseases. Body fluids include:
    • Blood
    • Feces
    • Mucus
    • Saliva
    • Semen
    • Urine
    • Vaginal fluids
    • Vomit


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Use personal protective equipment, such as:
    • Eye protection (goggles)
    • Face shields
    • Gloves
    • Gowns
    • Masks
  • Have means ready to treat exposure, such as wash stations
  • Understand incident management and reporting procedures at your job
  • CHEMICALS: Some workplace elements can lead to short- and long-term health effects. These conditions include:
    • Disorders of the:
      • Kidney
      • Liver
      • Lungs
    • Poisoning
    • Rashes

Besides chemicals, exposure to flammable liquids and gases can also present health issues.


  • Adjust schedules so that workers are not overexposed
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Change process to reduce contact with hazardous material
  • General dilution ventilation
  • Isolate or enclose the process
  • Put in place methods to reduce dust and particulate generation
  • Rotate job assignments
  • Substitute for safer alternatives
  • Use eye protection, gloves, and fume hoods
  • Wear respiratory protection

Each trade presents opportunities to improve workplace safety.

  • ANIMAL AND INSECT-BORN DISEASES: Known as zoonoses, they’re often derived from:
    • Flies
    • Lice
    • Mosquitoes
    • Ticks

Lyme disease and West Nile virus present rising challenges. But others, such as rabies and trichinosis, are more controlled. 


  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Control mosquitoes and rodents at home
  • Protect pets from fleas and ticks
  • Wear insect repellent and protective clothing outdoors
  • MOLD ALLERGIES: They’re natural in the environment. They’re spread through spores invisible to the naked eye. Allergens are airborne and can grow when spores land on wet surfaces and activate reactions. 


  • Avoid walking on tall grass and weeds
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Clean shower curtains and stalls
  • Wear a mask when working outdoors where mold grows
  • HEAT STROKE: In extreme weather, be alert for signs of heat exhaustion. It can begin with heat cramps in the arms, legs, or torso. Other symptoms can include:
    • Dark urine
    • Dizziness
    • Headache
    • Heavy sweating
    • Moist, pale skin
    • Nausea
    • Rapid heartbeat


  • Drink 6-8 ounces of fluid for every 15-20 minutes of work in the heat, and less when not working
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose clothing
  • Postpone work if possible in very hot or humid conditions
  • HYPOTHERMIA: Always bundle up in layers for protection in cold weather. Hypothermia can occur when the body temperature drops, and symptoms can include:
    • Changes in speech, behavior, or reactions
    • Confusion or sleepiness
    • Excessive shivering
    • Weak pulse

Pre-existing conditions can contribute to hypothermia, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Conditions that affect blood flow
  • Conditions that restrict activity or movement
  • Thyroid disorders


  • If you take medications for anxiety or depression, ask your doctor about the possible effects of cold weather
  • Wear at least three layers of clothing, including these items:
    • Hat
    • Mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
    • Scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
    • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
    • Water-resistant coat and boots
  • For layers of clothing, follow these guidelines:
    • Inner layer: Next to your skin, choose moisture-wicking materials. New, synthetic fabrics are designed for this
    • Outer layer: Tight-woven, wind-resistant material
  • LYME DISEASE: Lyme disease has increased since an arthritis outbreak attributed to it in 1975. It’s prevalent in other regions of the U.S. but also in the southeast. The bite of a tiny wood tick spreads it.


  • Act quickly if you suspect a bite. Symptoms include:
    • An expanding bull’s-eye rash
    • Chills and fever
    • Fatigue
    • Headache
    • Muscle and joint pain
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Avoid sitting on the ground or stone walls
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Clear brush, low-hanging branches, and tall grass from work areas
  • Do a full body check at the end of the day for ticks, paying attention to the scalp and other hairy portions of the body
  • Tuck long pants into socks and your shirt into your pants
  • Use an insect repellent
  • Wear a hat and a long-sleeve shirt if possible
  • Wear shoes, socks, and light-colored clothing to spot ticks
  • Wash and dry the clothes you had on at high temperatures to kill hidden ticks
  • SKIN CANCER: In the U.S., exposure to UV rays likely contributes to rising cases. If caught early, it’s treatable. Diligent protection and regular checks for warning signs are essential.


  • Check for abnormalities in the skin. Here is the American Cancer Society guideline:
    • Asymmetry: One-half of the growth does not match the other half.
    • Border irregularity: Ragged, notched, or blurred edges.
    • Color: The pigmentation is mottled or not uniform.
    • Diameter: The width is slightly more than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser).
    • Evolving: A mole or growth that looks different or changes in size, shape, or color.
  • Avoid sun exposure during peak hours (10 a.m.-3 p.m.).
  • TENSION HEADACHES: Also called muscle contraction headaches, they’re the most common type. The pain is mild-to-moderate, with sensations of tightness or pressure in the head and neck. Common causes include:
    • Eyestrain
    • Fatigue
    • Poor posture
    • Stress


  • Avoid holding a phone between your ear and shoulder
  • Avoid prolonged writing under poor light
  • Hold your chin up while reading
  • Limit gum chewing


The prospect of other work-related health issues is ever-present. It’s easy to identify them and take measures to avoid or lessen them.

  • A response when requirements don’t match capabilities, resources, or needs. It’s emotional and physical and can lead to poor health or injury. Other indicators include no time for relaxation or a sense of accomplishment.


  • Ask whether you take on more than you are responsible for, or have trouble delegating tasks
  • Be prepared for anticipated stressful situations
  • Be realistic about what you can do
  • Do things outside of work, such as:
    • Exercise
    • Group sports
    • Hobbies
    • Meditation
    • Social activities
  • Examine alternatives, within your employer or outside of it
  • Let go of the things you have no control over and take action to control the things you can
  • Seek help from friends, family, or professionals
  • Work to resolve conflicts with other people
  • It’s one of the nation’s most common medical issues, with 80% of Americans predicted to suffer from it. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says it’s the U.S.’s top occupational hazard. Common sources of back pain include:
    • Diseases such as arthritis
    • Injury to a disk (cushioning pads between the bones of the spine)
    • Muscle strain or injury


  • Consulting a physical therapist. Perform exercises such as back extensions and sit-ups correctly. If exercise causes discomfort, stop. Ask your doctor for suggestions if you’ve had back pain.
  • Exercising. Workouts based on strengthening and stretching the abdominal muscles and back are ideal. Exercise can enhance stability and flexibility to lower the chance of problems. Consider Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art for health benefits and meditation.
  • Improving posture. Use chairs that offer quality back support, and avoid slouching when you sit.
  • Proper lifting. Squat and use the more powerful muscles in your legs to lift, rather than bend from the waist. This holds true for lifting all weight ranges.
    • Store items you carry or lift often at waist height. Ask about training programs or protective measures if your job requires lifting. Ask your doctor for guidance, too.
    • Be mindful of backpack weight, especially for children and teens. Full backpacks can strain muscles in the back, neck, or shoulders. A child will often attempt to adjust to a heavy backpack with the wrong postures, such as:
      • Arching the back
      • Bending forward
      • Leaning to one side
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Excessive weight can cause back pain, especially when it is on the stomach. It can also lead to chronic spasms in the lower back. 
  • BACK TIPS: The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation says back pain is the second leading cause of work absenteeism. More children are experiencing back problems, and overstuffed backpacks might be a source. It’s imperative that you change your behaviors if you injure your back.
      • Get the right chair. For those who sit at a desk for long periods of time, back support is vital. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, you can try these items between the back of your chair and your lower back:
        • A rolled towel
        • A small pillow
        • A special seat support
      • Observe the 90-degree rule: Here are the steps to follow when sitting in a chair:
        • Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle
        • Keep your feet flat on the floor
        • Maintain a 90-degree angle for your back and hips
        • Rest your arms on your desk by bending your elbows at a 90-degree angle
      • Pay attention to the rest of your body. Posture also includes:
        • Avoid cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder
        • Adjust the height of your chair so that your forearms are level with your keyboard and you don’t have to flex your wrists to type
        • Use a swivel chair. Turn the chair when you reach for items, rather than twisting your body.
      • Buy smart. 
        • Choose a padded back to relieve stress on your back, shoulders, and underarms.
        • Look for reflective fabric to improve night visibility.
        • Pick the one with chest and hip belts to help reposition weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso.
        • Use compartments to spread the weight, keep objects secure, and allow easy access.
      • Keep it light. Aim for 10-15% or less of your body weight. Carry only what you need that day. Every night, remove items you don’t need. Place the heavier things closest to your back. Carry CDs rather than textbooks if possible, or have two sets of books so you don’t have to take them back and forth.
      • Parents: Look for signs your child’s backpack is too heavy. Questions to consider:
        • Are they in pain when wearing it?
        • Are they struggling with putting it on or taking it off?
        • Do they change their posture when wearing it?
        • Do they suffer tingling or numbness in their arms or legs? 
        • Do you see red marks on their shoulders?
      • Position it well. It should rest evenly in the middle of your back. Adjust shoulder straps so you can put it on and take it off easily, with free motion of your arms. Keep the straps tight; the backpack shouldn’t rest below the lower back.
      • Strap on with care. Keep the trunk of your body steady and don’t twist too much.
      • Wear both backpack straps. Using just one will force one side of your body to bear the weight. Wear two shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly.
  • Physical activities can also result in back injuries. If an object is on wheels, pushing is a less-stressful alternative to pulling. Bend at your knees, not your waist, to use your stronger leg muscles. Avoid twisting at the waist when you bend, too.


  • Ask your employer for special training or gear to help you lift things. Gear can include:
    • Back braces
    • Lifting aids
    • Safety harnesses
  • Consult your doctor or physical therapist for guidance on safety for your job, and for exercises to strengthen your back and core muscles. If you’re experiencing back pain, consult your doctor before beginning a new workout program.
  • Limit unassisted lifting to things small enough that you can hold them close to your body.
  • Store items you’ll lift or move often at waist level.
  • Take breaks. Stretch your muscles while sitting at your desk, or stand up and walk a bit.
  • Sometimes, work is a pain in the neck! That comes from habits we develop while working that cause pain in the first place. Even sitting at our desks, we put ourselves at risk of pain by:
    • Cradling a phone between our neck and shoulder
    • Looking down for extended periods
    • Tensing muscles as we work


  • Adjust your monitor. It should be at eye level so you can avoid looking down for extended periods.
  • Consider a headset or speakerphone. At least avoid cradling a phone between your ear and shoulder. Use your hands, and switch the phone from one hand to the other as you talk.
  • Improve posture. Sit straight and with lower-back support in an ergonomic chair. If your chair lacks support, place a small pillow between the small of your back and the back of the chair.
  • Take breaks. Don’t sit in the same position for long periods of time. Adapt your position, including your arms, back, legs, and neck. Stretch during breaks. Stand a few times an hour and move around.

So much of the work we do can become monotonous, especially if it involves repetitive motion tasks, such as:

  • Administrative
  • Manufacturing
  • Processing

This can cause health issues, but they’re preventable and treatable.

  • REPETITIVE STRESS: These can cause pain and debilitation, but they don’t have to. Beware of symptoms in affected areas:
    • Loss of flexibility or strength
    • Numbness
    • Pain
    • Tingling

Seek treatment for repetitive injuries. This will help avoid worsening conditions that could include loss of function. 

Repetitive stress injuries, also known as RSIs, include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: compressed nerves in the hand
  • De Quervain’s tendinitis: when the tendon on the thumb side of the wrist is sore or tightens
  • Ganglion cyst: a fluid-filled sac that causes a bump
  • Plantar fasciitis: a common heel ailment
  • Repetitive stress injury of the thumb: as a result of overusing gadget keypads
  • Shin splints
  • Stress fractures: Tiny breaks in the bone
  • Tendinitis and bursitis: inflammation of the soft tissue around bones and muscles
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis)
  • Tenosynovitis: inflammation of the tendon and tendon sheath
  • Trigger finger: when the finger is locked in a bent position


  • Adjust your chair height so your forearms are level with your keyboard. This will prevent you from having to flex your wrists when you type
  • Change positions if you sit or stand for prolonged periods
  • Bend, extend, or twist your hands for short periods only
  • Limit the time you rest your wrists on hard surfaces
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Seek treatment for diseases that can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Switch hands, don’t use the same hand to do everything
  • Take breaks to rest your hands and wrists
  • Use tools appropriate for your hand size