In Australia we are fortunate in having a high level of occupational health protection. Federal and State legislation ensures that employees are protected as far as possible from known health hazards at work. The trade unions have been the most important influence in the improvement of occupational health and safety during the twentieth century.
Employers are well aware of the advantages of having healthy staff. As well as instituting safe working conditions, many large organisations provide health and safety education for their employees, and medical services for all staff health problems, not only those associated with work. Most employers are quick to respond to staff concerns about health and safety and suggestions to improve working conditions. More employers now provide child-care facilities.
However, if you work for a small organisation or are an outworker in your home, or if you’re self-employed, there may be little or no supervision of your working conditions and it’s your own responsibility to make sure that your health (and also your family’s health if you’ working at home) won’t suffer through your work.
Here are some ways to guard your health at work, including household work.
• Follow all safety recommendations.
• Always use recommended protean clothing and devices. (I write this in shame and discomfort, having just cut my finger by being in too much of hurry to use the safety gripper of my vegetable-slicing gadget!)
• Never cut corners in approved working practices.
• If using equipment, make sure all safety measures are installed. If you’re uncertain about what’s needed, contact your union safety representative or your State government authority on these matters
• Never try to lift or move objects that are awkward or too heavy for you. Injuries caused by lifting are more likely at home (pulling out the cupboard heaving the groceries out of the car lifting a 15-kg child). If possible, it’ worth waiting for another person оr using a device to help you with difficult lifting.
• If you do intense visual work such as computer or VDT operation, look away and focus on a distant object for a few seconds every few minutes.
• If your work is sedentary, change position in your chair and move your legs and feet at least every 10 minutes, and try to get up and walk around for a few minutes of every hour.
• If you do repetitive work, such as on a production line, try to change your task every few hours. Most employers encourage this, as well as providing for short, regular breaks.
• If you work at home, try to find somewhere to set up your work apart from the rest of the family. Many home-workers must use the dining table, where equipment may be hazardous to young children. There’s also the disturbance and energy expenditure of having to shift your work for every meal.
• If you work out of doors, protect your skin from the sun with a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen on all uncovered skin.
• Don’t keep working or offer to do overtime if you’re overtired or unwell.
Stress can cause a multitude of health problems, including headaches, muscular tension and aching, digestive problems, excessive fatigue, anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that women generally cope with work stress better than their male colleagues, perhaps because of their other compensatory roles outside the workplace (though the demands of these can also contribute to stress).
Work factors associated with the development of stress-related illness include excessive workload, boring and monotonous work, unsatisfactory working conditions, unwanted job change or relocation – especially without enough training or preparation and anxiety about using new equipment (this is called ‘technostress’).
Working conditions that can aggravate work stress include excessive noise, inadequate lighting, unsuitable seating, poor ventilation and a workplace that is too hot or too cold. Tools and protective clothing designed for men may be unsuitable for women. These problems are more likely if you work in a family business, for yourself or at home: most employers are required by the law and the unions to provide satisfactory working conditions.
Interpersonal problems with the people you work with can cause more stress than the work itself. A job you would otherwise enjoy can become a misery if you must work with people you can’t get along with; if supervisors are too demanding, aggressive or bullying; or if a colleague’s lack of training or ability makes it difficult for you to do your job properly. In such cases, it’s worth discussing the problem with your boss or personnel manager.