Safety representatives can easily see, during an inspection, when something is wrong in the workplace - but it is far more difficult to find out how work might be harming the bodies of our colleagues.
We do not tend to be very open at work about our health and some people dismiss aches and pains as ‘part of growing older’, not realising (or not wanting to admit) that it might be work that is causing the problems.
Use a body map diagram to note symptoms of your colleagues.
There is nothing difficult in body mapping. You start with the front and back body outlines. You could provide everyone with a small body map or, alternatively, you could enlarge it either for use in a meeting with several members or for display on the union notice-board.
Members are then asked to put a sticker, or a coloured mark onto the body map to show any symptoms that they may have.
It is a good idea to use different colours to identify different symptoms, for example:
By comparing the different symptoms of members working in the same area, or doing the same tasks, you can identify common themes.
Once you’ve found the symptoms, you then need to look at possible causes - remember that these may not be work-related: but the more members reporting the same symptoms, the more likely it becomes that the work or working environment is a factor.
The table below offers some possible explanations for common complaints.
|Body area||Symptoms||Possible work causes|
|Head||anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, irritability||stress, some solvents|
|Eyes||redness, irritation, dryness, watering||dust, air quality/humidity, VDUs (lack of eye tests or breaks)|
|Ears||hearing loss||noise - especially through headsets|
|Nose and throat||sneezing, coughing, dryness, soreness, hoarseness||air quality/ humidity, dust, voice loss (overuse in e.g. call centres)|
|Neck and back||soreness, pain, stiffness||strain injury, stress, poor posture, poor furniture or job design, inadequate breaks from VDU work.|
|Chest and lungs||wheezing, shortness of breath||asthma, through dusty environment or other allergies|
|Arms, wrists and hands||pains, stiffness, soreness, pins and needles, loss of sensation in fingertips||strain injury, poor ergonomics, poor work routine and breaks
vibration white finger, strain injuries
|Blood and heart||palpitations, poor circulation, high blood pressure||stress, strain injuries, solvents, shift working|
|Legs and knees||stiffness, aches and pains||walking/standing for long periods. see also back problems, for referred pains.|
|Feet and ankles||pins and needles, numbness, pain||rapid, repetitive foot movements, vibration|
These are only a selection of possible symptoms and causes - your colleagues are likely to identify many more.
Further assistance and advice can be obtained from the equality, health and safety department of PCS. Contact Carl Banks, 020 7801 2683, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
You could also contact the Employment Medical Advisory service - part of the Health and Safety Executive.
Hazards Magazine, issues 60, 61 and 71 provide further information and background. To order visit the Hazards website.