Creating a Safe and Healthy Workplace:
A Guide to Occupational Health and Safety for Entrepreneurs, Owners and Managers

This short guide is for owners and managers of business enterprises, especially in the developing world, to help you identify, reduce, and eliminate hazards in the workplace.

Knowledgeable owners and managers know that injuries and illness that happen at work can be tragedies for the workers and their families, create conflict and hard feelings among workers, slow down production, and increase costs. Workers should be confident that they will not be injured or made sick at work.

1. Protecting Your Workers

All work-related (occupational) injuries and illnesses can be prevented. Worker training and education can prevent bad things from happening in the first place. The more your workers know about health, safety, and hazards, the more they can protect themselves improve their own health. Most often, employees simply does not know how to work safely and wants to do the job quickly and to produce more, especially if they are being paid by the piece. The result can be an injury.

You must start by learning the laws and regulations in your own country to be sure that you are following them in your business. Over and above these regulations, you will always want to keep your eyes open for a better way to do things better, more efficiently, and more safely. This book shows how. Working together, we can make a safer and healthier workplace.

2. Safety

Safety hazards cause accidents, resulting in injuries that can be serious. A responsible owner and manager will notice safety hazards and insist that they be corrected and that conditions are made safe. Safety hazards certainly exist in your workplace – they are everywhere. Safety is partly a matter of seeing what is there.

Many physical hazards can be controlled with simple safety measures and essential work practices such as cleanliness, proper equipment, and monitoring conditions to be sure that things are cleaned up and kept in order. Others require some specialized knowledge.

This chapter talks about the most common safety hazards.

3. Efficient, Healthy and Safe Work

The workplace needs to be designed for real people. People are not perfect and they make mistakes. A properly designed workplace will help the worker to work more efficiently, more productively, and more safely. The professional field that covers workplace design, safety, and efficiency is called ergonomics. The basic principle of ergonomics is “fit the job to the worker”. A workplace that is inefficient in design will make the worker inefficient and unproductive, and also tired, so injuries are more likely.

It is really not difficult to solve most problems in ergonomics. There are many inexpensive tools that are available to you. This chapter goes into detail on many common problems with efficient work practices.

4. Stress at work

Stress is what people feel when they are faced with something they are not sure they can handle. Stress is not just about emotion. It also affects the body and the ability to work.

There will always be some amount of stress in the workplace. Stress happens when people feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and defeated. Much stress is also caused by poor personal relations at work, both from supervisors who are insensitive to workers and do not know how to manage them effectively, and also from the worker’s own co-workers.

The key to managing the bad effects of stress is to reduce it to a level that your employees can handle. Too much stress will cause problems for workers and for the enterprise. This chapter goes into detail on common stress-related problems.

5. Dusts and Chemicals

Sometimes, dusts and chemicals in the workplace can make your workers sick. This chapter goes into detail on the various types of dusts and chemicals and what health effects they may cause. Your tool to find out how dangerous a chemical substance that is used in your business may be is the “safety data sheet” (SDS) and the product label that comes to you from the manufacturer. These labels are required by international regulations.

There are some general principles that apply to many chemicals and dusts.

  • Many chemicals (but not all) stay in the body for a long time.
  • Chemicals that are toxic (poisonous to some degree) can cause illness right away (acute poisoning) or slowly over time (chronic poisoning), depending on the chemical. Most (but not all) work-related poisoning-type diseases are chronic, developing over time.
  • Chemicals that react strongly with other chemicals can also cause injuries. They can make people sick but they can also cause burns (acids and alkali), explode, eat away at skin, or cause damage to the eyes.
  • Chemicals usually (but not always) affect everyone who is exposed to them in the same way. Sometimes a person is “susceptible”, meaning that they react in a different way than usual. The most common susceptible people are children, pregnant women (for injury to the unborn child), and people who already have medical conditions, such as asthma.
  • For most chemical exposures that can be toxic, the higher the exposure and the more the chemical there is the worse the poisoning it causes. However, this is not true for allergy. If someone becomes allergic to a chemical and has a bad reaction (like a severe skin rash or asthma due to allergy to it), they usually cannot stand to be around any of it.

6a. Controlling Unsafe Conditions

There are many ways to control hazards but they all fall into just a few easy categories. The most effective are elimination (getting rid of the problem), substitution (changing to a different, safer alternative), and separation (keeping the worker away from the hazard).

Engineering controls change workplace design to reduce exposure or eliminate the exposure to toxins or hazards. Engineering controls are highly effective because there is an actual change in the workplace environment that is permanent and long lasting. Engineering controls can sometimes be costly but often are simple and cheap. Putting guards on power machinery so that workers do not injure themselves is another simple engineering control.

Process controls are a form of engineering control that involves evaluating and redesigning the flow of work for greater efficiency and safety and introducing changes in the work process. An extremely important but very simple example of process control is wetting. The simple act of wetting down dust so it doesn’t fly around can make a big difference and when the dust is dangerous (such as silica) it can even save a life.

6b. Controlling Unsafe Conditions

Ventilation is a particularly important form of engineering control. Contaminated air is removed and diluted by ventilation systems, which are basically fans blowing air into the building or out of the building (exhaust). Ventilation systems can also control temperature, oxygen level, humidity, as well as the amount of dust or a chemical in the air.

Administrative controls are procedures and management policies that protect workers. For example, if work is going to be done in a dangerous situation (like a confined space, digging trenches, or with electrical hazards), the supervisor has to obtain a permit from the manager. The manager checks to be sure that they know and agree to follow safe working procedures.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes masks, gloves, aprons, and safety devices that workers use individually. It is the least effective type of controls because it depends too much on availability and on the worker or supervisor knowing exactly how to wear it, use it correctly, maintain it, and which type to choose. All PPE requires that the worker use it, and use it all the time around the hazard. However, there are a lot of situations where it is the only practical means of protection.

7a. Vulnerable Workers

Workers who can be hurt more easily than other workers or are more susceptible to health problems, are called “vulnerable workers”.

People with disabilities may need a little help in order to be able to do the job. This is called “accommodation”. The modern concept of disability is to think of it as a mismatch between individual capacity and the environment in which that person functions.

Workers with infectious diseases are often a particular concern for employers. However, it is not difficult to protect workers from HIV/AIDS or any of the hepatitis viruses (there are three). Tuberculosis can spread in the workplace but the risk can be reduced by ventilation and helping workers get treatment – once they are on effective treatment, they cannot spread the disease.

7b. Vulnerable Workers

Women make up a large part of the workforce in many countries. At some point during their employment, many young women will start families at home. This should not keep managers from hiring young women. Workers who are pregnant can usually work well into the pregnancy and will usually be able to return shortly after giving birth, if that is what they want. Children are not just small adults. A child does not have the stamina or concentration that an adult does, and in a work setting this could mean that a child is more likely to be injured in an unsafe situation. Some children in some places have to work, but this is not what we should want for our children. Employers should encourage young workers to go to school whenever possible, both boys and girls. Most countries have already adopted rules to discourage or eliminate child labor.

Older adults are usually healthy enough these days to work and can be as valuable in the workplace as the younger workers who are just starting jobs because they are experienced.

Immigrants make up much of the workforce in many countries. These workers may need additional or different training, in their own language appropriate to their educational level, on safe work practices. They are often less likely to ask questions if they do not understand, are often less likely to speak up if they are having a problem, and may feel intimidated by authority.

Service workers, particularly at the local level, are the public face of your business. There are many opportunities for stress and conflict in relationships in the service sector. Many jobs in the service sector are paid low wages and jobs are often insecure.

8. Risk Assessment

“Risk assessment” is a way to evaluate how likely it is that bad things will happen and how serious the consequences could be. It does not have to be complicated but it does have to gather and organize the most important information you need to evaluate the problem.

“Risk management” (next chapter) is what you do about these risks once you identify or estimate them. Chapter 6 described many methods of managing hazards in the workplace to reduce risks. Risk management is your overall plan for how to do this.

Risk assessment and management, together, form an approach to managing workplace hazards in order to protect workers and the efficiency of the enterprise. Protecting the health of workers is not only a form of process management but one of the most important. Risk assessment and risk management, followed by evaluation (a follow-up risk assessment) and improvement (another risk management), are the same as “Plan > Do > Study > Act”. The next chapter shows how to do this for many hazards, but especially chemicals.

9. Risk Management

Once a hazard is recognized, there is an obligation to manage it! Risk assessment is the step in which the hazard is evaluated and a decision is made as to whether it is a big risk requiring high priority or a medium or small risk that can be prioritized among other business priorities and wait its turn for management attention. With the information from worksite risk assessment, risks can be classified and prioritized for risk management. The next step is deciding what can be done to reduce or control the risk.

Risk management in the workplace is mostly a problem of controlling hazards. This chapter gives you a simple but powerful tool to do this in your workplace. It is called “control banding”, a simplified system to risk assessment and risk management.

Most managers find chemical hazards particularly hard to control. Control banding puts chemical hazards into risk categories. Each category then points to a “menu” of simple control measures. Control banding works well for most problems involving chemicals, and also works for noise, heat, and biological hazards.

10. Where to Get More Information

The internet is a great place to find information for free, but not all of it is reliable. On the ICOH website there is a list of reliable websites funded by national governments and international organizations and books where you can read more.


OH Guide


Working Papers