Steel workers often have to endure exhausting hours, strenuous conditions and constant perils. Whether at mills or construction sites, steel workers face a wide range of risks that factor into their everyday duties.
The International Labour Organization’s Code of Practice on Safety and Health in the Iron and Steel Industry identifies more than 27 hazards that contribute to accidents and injuries. The biggest dangers include:
- Falls: Steel work often involves significant heights, uneven ground and obstructed walkways. It’s no surprise that slips, trips and falls are the number one cause of injuries among steel workers worldwide.
- Heavy machinery: Powerful machinery plays a key role in the steel industry. It also contributes to numerous injuries and fatalities. Despite ample warnings, thorough training and built-in safeguards, accidents still happen. People cut corners, equipment deteriorates and safety mechanisms fail.
- Noise: Steel mills and construction sites aren’t quiet environments. Hearing loss is common among steel workers, especially when proper ear protection isn’t used religiously. Continuous harsh noise also takes a psychological toll, leading to fatigue and anxiety.
- Toxins: Dangerous chemicals and airborne toxins are facts of life in steel mills. Improper handling can lead to chemical burns, blindness and lung damage. What’s more, over years and decades, exposure to toxins such as asbestos can result in life-threatening cancers and lung diseases.
- Vibration: Many steel workers use heavy machinery or power tools on a daily basis. Long-term exposure to vibration from this equipment can cause nerve damage, especially in the hands and fingers. It can also wear down tendons and ligaments, leading to chronic pain and decreased mobility.
- Heavy lifting: Jobs in the steel industry are physically demanding. They require repeated lifting, bending and other forms of exertion. When workers perform strenuous tasks day in and day out, year after year, their bodies wear down. Back, neck, knee and shoulder injuries are especially prevalent among steel workers.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate the risks involved in steel work. However, it is possible to reduce them. When every worker, supervisor and employer makes safety a priority, everyone benefits.