What are the main occupational health risks in manufacturing?
The manufacturing sector contains a really diverse range of industries from food and drink to textiles. However, the main causes of occupational ill health in general are:
Chemicals – in some manufacturing industries, such as processing plastics, chemicals are used which can be harmful to health if they are absorbed through contact with skin or if they are inhaled.
Hand-arm vibration syndrome – this comes from using hand-held power tools. Those at risk include people who use tools or machines such as concrete breakers, sanders, chainsaws and powered mowers. Hand-arm vibration causes numbness in the hands, difficulty picking up small objects and vibration white finger.
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) – covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper and lower limbs, or back. MSDs are often triggered by repetitive movements or awkward lifting. In the manufacturing industry a major cause of MSDs is poor manual handling techniques.
Noise induced hearing loss – industrial hearing loss accounts for about 75 per cent of all occupational disease claims. Workplaces where machinery is used have potential noise issues, like the plastics industry and food and drink manufacturing.
Respiratory disease – silica dust can cause lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. Industries like molten metal manufacturing and textile manufacturing have high incidences of respiratory diseases, including silicosis, occupational asthma and respiratory irritation.
Skin disease – with frequent exposure to chemicals or having wet hands for a long period of time, skin diseases can be a common problem in manufacturing. Dermatitis (eczema) is the most common but skin cancer and urticaria (e.g. hives) are also problems.
Work-related stress – stress at work is a nationwide issue that is a significant cause of illness across all sectors. It is linked to high levels of sickness absence and staff turnover. It can affect anyone at any level of the business.
What do I do now?
1. Download this factsheet on manual handling supplied by health and safety specialists Barbour EHS.
2. Visit the HSE’s manufacturing page for more targeted industry information.