Industrial Safety



Industrial Safety, the area of safety engineering and public health that deals with the protection of workers’ health, through control of the work environment to reduce or eliminate hazards. Industrial accidents and unsafe working conditions can result in temporary or permanent injury, illness, or even death. They also take a toll on reduced efficiency and loss of productivity. Annually in the United States, about 6.5 of every 100 full-time workers in private industry experience a work-related injury or illness. Although most of these incidents are minor, approximately 2.8 million cases each year involve lost work time, and about 6,000 American workers die each year because of work-related injuries or accidents.

In the United States before 1900 the safety of workers was of little concern to employers. Only with the passage of the Workmen’s Compensation Laws and related labour statutes between 1908 and 1948 did U.S. employers start to pay attention to industrial safety; making the work environment safer was less costly than paying compensation. Labour shortages during World War II (1939-1945) focused renewed attention on industrial safety and on the losses incurred by industrial accidents. During the 1960s a number of industry-specific laws were enacted, such as the Metal and Nonmetallic Mine Safety Act, the Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, and the Construction Safety Act. A new national policy was established in 1970 when for the first time all industrial workers in businesses affected by interstate commerce were covered by the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Under this act, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was given responsibility for conducting research on occupational health and safety standards, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was charged with setting and enforcing appropriate standards in the industry.


Various external sources, such as chemical, biological, or physical hazards, can cause work-related injury. Hazards may also result from the interaction between worker and environment; these so-called ergonomic hazards can cause physiological or psychological stress.

Chemical hazards can arise from the presence of poisonous or irritating gas, mist, or dust in the workplace. Hazard elimination may require the use of alternative and less toxic materials, improved ventilation, leakage control, or protective clothing.

Biological hazards arise from bacteria or viruses transmitted by animals or unclean equipment and tend to occur primarily in the food-processing industry. The source of the contamination must be eliminated or, when that is not possible, protective equipment must be worn.

Common physical hazards include ambient heat, burns, noise, vibration, sudden pressure changes, radiation, and electric shock. Industrial safety engineers attempt to eliminate hazards at their source or to reduce their intensity. If this is impossible, workers are required to wear protective equipment. Depending on the hazard, this equipment may include safety glasses, earplugs or earmuffs, face masks, heat or radiation protection suits, boots, gloves, and helmets. To be effective, however, the protective equipment must be appropriate, properly maintained, and worn by the worker.

If the physical, psychological, or environmental demands on workers exceed their capabilities, ergonomic hazards arise. This type of hazard frequently occurs in the area of materials handling, where workers must lift or carry heavy loads. Poor working posture or improper design of the workplace often results in muscle strains, sprains, fractures, bruises, and back pain. These injuries account for 25 per cent of all occupational injuries, and their control requires designing the job so that workers can perform it without overexerting themselves.


In recent years engineers have attempted to develop a systems approach (termed safety engineering) to industrial accident prevention. Because accidents arise from the interaction of workers and their work environments, both must be carefully examined to reduce the risk of injury. Injury can result from poor working conditions, the use of improperly designed equipment and tools, fatigue, distraction, lack of skill, and risk taking. The systems approach examines the following areas: all work locations to eliminate or control hazards, operating methods and practices, and the training of employees and supervisors. The systems approach, moreover, demands a thorough examination of all accidents and “near misses.” Key facts about accidents and injuries are recorded, along with the history of the worker involved, to check for and eliminate any patterns that might lead to hazards.

The systems approach also pays special attention to the capabilities and limitations of the working population. It recognizes large individual differences among people in their physical and physiological capabilities. The job and the worker, therefore, should be appropriately matched whenever possible.

Contributed By:
Arun Garg

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