Recognizing and Preventing Occupational Disease

Hard work never killed anybody, or so we would like to believe. The problem is not the work, rather the working conditions. Occupational diseases are illnesses caused by unsafe working conditions. Other factors involved are unreasonable work hours, salaries, employee health protection etc. Work environments can adversely affect both the physical and mental health of workers. We at Kritam, have compiled a list of common occupational diseases and how to prevent them.

1. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS): Pain, numbness and tingling in the arms are common symptoms. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is a condition in which the median nerve in the wrist is compressed. The nerve travels through the carpal tunnel and hence the name. Repetitive hand motions and awkward positioning can cause this.

Most often carpal tunnel syndrome is associated with white-collar office jobs where employees spend their day in front of a computer. However, these are not the only people at risk. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can affect hairdressers, cashiers, musicians, tailors, maids, bakers, factory workers etc.

To prevent this, companies must consider making the work environment ergonomically friendly. They need to re-design workstations to minimize the effects of CTS. Companies must also encourage breaks or a rotational system of work. Employees too need to be aware and give their hands a break every few hours.

2. Respiratory Problems: For those sitting in air-conditioned offices, it is ever so easy to forget about the factory worker out in the field. Factory workers are constantly exposed to a number of chemical fumes and dust. Breathing in these materials can lead to problems like asbestosis, silicosis and asthma. And this is not just limited to factory workers. Even bartenders and waitresses (in restaurants which allow smoking) are at risk. As are firefighters, miners, pest control workers and farmers.

The onus of prevention of lung diseases is on the management. Workers need to be provided with appropriate protective equipment such as gloves, helmets, breathing masks etc. They also need to be trained on how to handle the equipment and their medical policies need to provide some insurance for respiratory diseases caused by working conditions. In any of these fields, having a medical practitioner on board is a must.

3. Skin Diseases: Anybody who works with chemicals, cements, oil, animals, printing and paints, acids and plants is at risk of contracting a skin disease. Symptoms of this usually include, itching, pain, redness and blisters of the skin. Once again employees need to be equipped with protective equipment. Methods must be devised to minimize the direct contact employees have with the material.

4. Hearing Loss: You’d be surprised at the number of sectors prone to Occupational hearing loss. Yes, the obvious ones are construction, aviation, factory work and any job that involves heavy machinery. But there’s more. Exposure to sounds above 85dB for a prolonged period of time is considered harmful to hearing. And guess which industries are at risk? – Nursery school teachers, who deal with noisy children all day; delivery boys/girls, who spend their day exposed to the sounds of a motorcycle and even nightclub staff, who hear the loud music every night.

Managements need to actively implement noise-control steps. They need to measure the levels of noise produced in the work environment and work to keeping it at a minimal.

Unfortunately managements are notorious for not implementing these measures. Sometimes they may give reasons such as a lack of budget or practical implementation problems. The fact is most often the basic problem is a lack of awareness.

We hope this article made you think about the risks you have at your job and the risks you may be exposing a number of people to.