High Risk Jobs

The other day someone asked me what the most ‘unsafe’ or most ‘at risk’ jobs are.

All sorts of things came to mind… a helicopter pilot responsible for carrying logs up a mountain, mining engineers deep in the earth, pyrotechnics in the movie industry, coastal guards rushing out to save people in nasty weather conditions, an engineer climbing to the top of a wind turbine to check something…

The person then added the comment that “showing people how to deal with those high risk jobs is probably more important than just say, an office junior”.

And upon thinking about it I realised that while some job environments are definitely more hazardous (and life threatening) and teaching people in those industries ways to improve safety is very important, every occupation has its own uniqe set of risks:

Some involve falling from heights, whether it be the great, terrifying heights of a building construction or the height of the office step ladder.

Others involve the use of machinery whether it be heavy machinery like earth movers and compactors, or the simple photocopier (although there’s nothing simple about a photocopier when it senses you’re in a hurry to photocopy something urgent – damn things!).

There are potential driving challenges – whether you are in charge of a road train, a bus full of school children, or buzzing around the city in the company’s V-dub.

Some deal with emotional stress as they are bogged down with heavy workloads, others through constant demand from clients and the need to ‘perform’ as in the case of lawyers or teachers.

Some work long hours whether it be the business owner attempting to make ends meet, or the conscientious office worker doing their best to impress that boss.

Others spend their time at repetitive tasks that almost freeze the mind in a blur of boredom, and one slip up can mean a horrific burn, the terrible loss of a limb, or a simple but painful paper cut or jamming of a finger in a filing cabinet.

A keyboard operator may battle with aches and pains if not given access to stretching routines and appropriate breaks, while a construction worker deals with an ear infection due to unclean noise reduction equipment.

We all deal with safety issues on a regular basis – and we are all at risk. So, from the Pyrotechnic to the Office Junior, even though some occupations are definitely more hazardous, remember that each individual is as important as the next. We all need to make OHS a part of our daily ritual to achieve our goals of safety, health, productivity, and a sense of worth and quality of life.

A good thing to remember is that there are more people successfully ‘getting the job done’ in a healthy, happy and safe way than there are the other way around. These people are the ones with a positive and proactive approach to Health and Safety, have a supportive OHS team or rep. at their workplace, and take Duty of Care for themselves and their workmates seriously.

So remember the steps to controlling hazards in your workplace:

  1. Assess the hazards in your workplace (and keep a record)
  2. Find and implement solutions to those hazards (and keep a record)
    These solutions may be:
    * substituting the hazard with something posing a lower risk;
    * isolating the hazard (eg. enclose the hazard);
    * using machinery
    * training and implementing good work procedures 
    * using personal protective equipment
  3. Assess whether the solutions have eliminated or reduced the hazard (and keep a record)
    If a risk to health and safety still remains, implement:
    * more sound work procedures,
    * more in depth training, 
    * further personal protective equipment to further reduce the hazard
  4. Conduct regular inspections for other hazards and for further improving existing solutions (and keep records)

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (2)

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  1. Les Henley says:

    I agree with everything the author of “high risk jobs” has said, and I offer the following in support:

    I think many people in so called “safe jobs” have lost sight of, or even failed to recognise, the complexity of their work environment. The nature and degree of potential injuries is perceived to be much less than the ‘high risk jobs’ and we lose sight of the fact that an injury is still an injury. Even paper cuts and splinters have been know to cause loss of limbs and death through septicaemia.

    In our ‘caveman days’ the hunter had to be mindful of a natural environment and the ‘bities & stingies’ that it contained. But compared to today’s work environment, it was relatively simple. Even the threat of injury or death that evoked the stress response of ‘fight or flight’ was so much easier to recognise and respond to back then.

    Today we don’t recognise that the issues of stress, related to conditions such as fatigue, overwork, unreasonable performance targets and due dates and the juggling of multiple priorities between family, work and social life, are inducing the same chemical repsonses in our bodies as the threat to life from bygone days. And because we don’t recognise it, our bodies are not given the same opportunities to deal with those chemicals as a physical fight or flight did for our forbears. Hence the chemicals build up in our systems and we succumb to ‘dis-stress’ the debilitating condition that causes so many to take ‘stress leave’. (See also, elsewhere on this website, the series of articles on ‘the links between human stress factors and musculo-skeletal disorders’).

    In many workplaces we also don’t do such a good job of ‘initiating’ the new adult (today’s new employee) and passing on the shared learning, knowledge and experience of the tribe as was done in those long lost days. The comment “its common sense” is heard all too often in relation to people experiencing adverse outcomes in hazardous situations.

    This results in people being ‘bitten or stung’ by unrecognised technological hazards of complex machinery – the photocopier, the shredder, the motorised hole punch, the binding machine, even the humble computer workstation, etc. And even in the use of simple tools such as shovels and spades with associated manual handling injuries arising from poor ergonomic actions.

    Some years ago I was contracted to teach OHS to some young people as a pre-employment program for the construction industry. I did some research that highlighted that a significant number of manual handling injuries were occurring in conjunction with the use of these simple tools and most often it was young people who were hurt.

    Going forward, we need to keep the process of induction and trainng for new employees, in every industry, up to date and make sure they are provided with ALL of the knowledge and skills they need to prevent workplace injuries.

    Les Henley
    OHS & Risk Manager

  2. admin says:

    Hi Les, as always I’m humbled at your knowledge, eloquence and ability to explain complex, or ‘big picture’ issues simply and directly. Thank you.

    Sometimes we tend to get bogged down in all of the OHS paperwork and jargon, and it’s a relief to know there are processes and steps to take to move forward. I particularly like how you pointed out the need for induction and training in every industry to make sure workers “are provided with ALL of the knowledge and skills they need to prevent workplace injuries”.

    Thank you once again – it’s a pleasure and an honour to have you contribute to the site.

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