Skip main navigation

Introduction to physical factors and health at work

This week we will tell you about the physical factors that you meet at a workplace. We will also discuss how they influence our health. - Every year millions of workers worldwide develop hearing loss due to noise. This may lead to major communication problems and social isolation. How could this problem be prevented? - Well, we will teach you about the physical factors, especially noise, radiation and work place climate. Furthermore, we will also discuss how to organize a safe workplace.
Among all the physical factors at work, noise is probably the factor that affects the highest number of workers. The health problems related to high decibel levels at work are mainly encountered in occupations where machinery and equipment operate at high sound intensities.
However, high noise levels may also occur in other work places, such as transport and agriculture.
Exposure to high decibel levels can cause hearing loss. This loss may result from both hearing sudden, loud, explosive sounds, as well as being exposed to lower noise levels for longer periods. Workers’ exposure to noise should be controlled properly in the work place to lower the risk of hearing loss.
Noise and vibration are physical work environment factors that often coexist, and this week we will also discuss some health problems related to vibration.
Exposure to vibration may occur when using hand-held instruments and equipment. This exposure may cause health problems in the hands and arms.
Exposure to radiation is another example of a physical factor in the workplace that may affect health. There are many types of radiation. Ionizing radiation, best known as X-rays, is one example. X-rays are typically used for diagnostic purposes. While the radiation exposure dose is minimal for the patient examined, the situation is different for health personnel working with this type of equipment every day. Without protection such health personnel may experience serious health effects from their longer-term exposure to X-rays.
In occupational health we need to know about these dangers and how negative side effects from ionizing radiation can be avoided.
In addition we will discuss other types of radiation, for instance electromagnetic fields. Such fields radiate from cell phones, radar, lasers and electric power lines, to name a few. It is important to know more about the possible health effects of this type of radiation as well as when and where this exposure may influence our health. This knowledge can be used to protect employees from unhealthy exposure situations in the workplace.
This week we will also discuss the importance of workplace climate. The expression workplace climate includes several physical factors. We will discuss both outdoor workplace climate issues as well as workplace climate factors in indoor office environment. Temperature for instance, is a very important workplace climate factor. In developing countries, large numbers of workers perform their tasks outdoors in areas where the sun is shining and the temperatures rise to very high levels. We need to help these workers avoid developing heat stress.
Very cold temperatures may also cause serious health problems. In occupational health, we need to understand the relationship between health and temperature levels so that we know better how to handle these types of work situations.
We will also discuss the physical factors affecting indoor office environment. Temperature can be an important factor here as well. For example, the incorrect use of air conditioning systems has resulted in situations where workers have developed Legionella. This is a serious, life-threatening, infectious disease.
At the end of this week, we will discuss safety at work. We will discuss in greater detail the principles of risk assessment you learned about in the first week of this course. We will also discuss how to organize and control the work environment to keep the workers safe. - By the end of this week we hope that you have an understanding of what physical factors are and how they may affect workers. - Employers, workers and health personnel need to cooperate to reduce these health risks.

This week consists of four topics, each followed by discussion and a quiz.

Noise and vibration

In this session you will learn about noise and vibration. We will describe different workplaces where these factors may be encountered, possible health effects and preventive measures.

Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation

In this session you will learn about ionizing and non-ionizing radiation, where these types of radiation occur and how to protect yourself from the negative health effects from different types of radiation.

Work place climate

In this session you will learn about climate factors both at outdoor and indoor workplaces. Health problems occurring during work at high and low temperatures will be described, the expressions indoor air environment and climate will be explained, and you will learn about the Legionella disease.

Safety at work

Safety is a huge topic, here we will focus on some fundamental issues involved in making a workplace safe; the importance of a responsible leadership, safety training, safety signage and first aid.

This article is from the free online

Occupational Health in Developing Countries

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now