Report • 04.11.2013

Occupational Health and Safety

Safety Has Many Different Facets

At the checkout, the pressure is twofold: enduring smile can lead to...
At the checkout, the pressure is twofold: enduring smile can lead to psychological problems and depending on the workspace's design the working is a one-sided strain.
Source: panthermedia.net/Arne Trautmann

Next year, occupational health and safety will take center stage. The “Arbeitsschutz Aktuell 2014“ trade show (“Occupational Health and Safety“) is just around the corner and is not alone. Together with the “XX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work: Global Forum for Prevention“, August 2014 is all about safety. Mental health, an ergonomic workspace and corporate health management are just some of the topics in the work environment of tomorrow.

In just a few days, the A+A begins in Düsseldorf. Personal safety, corporate safety, health at work and disaster management equipment also takes center stage in 2013. Special exhibits like “Workplace Design“ or “Wearable Technologies“ illustrate all the different changes in occupational health and safety since the last A+A in 2011.

Safety is also Frankfurt’s motto in 2014. At the “Arbeitsschutz Aktuell“ Trade Fair, interesting forums such as “ErgomomieLive“ (“ErgonomicsLive“) or “Trend and Media Forum“ inform about current events in the industry. Professor Rainer von Kiparski is the President of the Association of Occupational Safety Experts (among other things): “Frankfurt, the world’s trade show metropolis, becomes the international center of excellence for modern occupational health and safety and the world’s most important industry meeting venue – this is the ideal place for prevention experts to network globally and get informed about the latest products," he announced the event during a press release.

Health in retail

Ergonomic workspaces are nothing new for the retail industry. Whether it is one-sided strain at the checkout counter or standing workstations behind the sales counter: at 22.4 percent, the resulting musculoskeletal disorders still cause most disability-related sick days in Germany. This is indicated in the current “The Changing Work Environment“ pamphlet by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA).

In contrast, skin diseases are among the most common work-related diseases, particularly in food retailing and flower retail shops. In 2011, just fewer than 25,500 suspected cases were reported, of which about 580 were being officially acknowledged. Constant contact with cleansers as well as working with supposed sanitary rubber gloves put permanent stress on the skin. Skin protection lotions, appropriate protective gloves as well as gentle cleaners and skin care products after work can help and alleviate already existing discomfort.

Another potential source of danger is promotional measures in retail. Fragrance testers, functional music and special product lighting can also compromise the health of employees, who spend a lot of time in the store compared to customers. Before a store takes such measures, a risk assessment needs to preclude that employees are at risk.

Increasing psychological stress

Psychological stress in retail is also increasing. Jörg Feldmann at the BAuA knows: “One retail study revealed that a permanent smile and the pressure to always be in a good mood and friendly also stress employees. In addition, statistics show that the work atmosphere in retail has become extreme. Employees need to increasingly be able to deal with unfriendly customers and verbal abuse. Thanks to increasing technolization, they also get the feeling of being constantly watched and that every mistake can be immediately discovered and criticized. Such factors can be causes for stress and illness. “

Dr. Arno Weber of the German Society of Safety Engineers (VDSI) also knows about the increasing psychological demands in retail. Occupational health and safety is still in its infancy, particularly in smaller retail businesses. This is not due to a lack of commitment, but the fact that this topic is less of an issue in smaller companies. Regardless of whether a company is large or small, occupational health and safety are primarily the responsibility of management. It is no longer enough to minimize physical sources of danger. Company and working atmosphere also needs to be considered. The behavior of managers is important for the mental health of employees. An always-grumpy boss gets dissatisfied employees, who punch the clock at best and in the worst case scenario drop out due to sickness. This is why managers also need to think about their behavior towards employees and adjust it if necessary. A friendly conversation, appreciation and no unnecessary stress build-up help to improve the work environment for both parties.

Work for old and young: a new challenge for employers

Society is aging – and so are employees. Labor shortage has been a topic for quite some time now. At this point, it is more important than ever for companies to keep their employees healthy and to attract new associates at the same time. Exercise breaks, ergonomic workspaces with height adjustable desks or health days are simple tools to familiarize associates with the subject of occupational safety and health. Ergonomics consultants or physical therapists can also help with employee-friendly workplace design.

Of course, you also need to actively offer your own employees these relief options and health-promoting activities and motivate them to do something for their health on their own. Those, who like to exercise, also use the discount at the fitness center your company is able to provide.

Dr. Weber from the VDSI believes that there will be a holistic safety approach – a safety culture – in companies in the future: “It is not just about improving technology; it actually means to consistently check and reflect the status quo and educate employees in properly handling work, work environment and their own health..“

Elisabeth Henning; iXtenso.com

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