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close this bookLow-Cost Ways of Improving Working Conditions: 100 Examples from Asia (ILO, 1989, 190 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Lighting
View the document2. Heat and noise
View the document3. Handling, use and storage of hazardous substances
View the document4. Guards and other safety devices
View the document5. Safe working procedures


Physical working conditions differ from one enterprise to another. They are closely related to the work process, and depend on the various arrangements of the work premises. It is essential to keep a safe, healthy and comfortable environment as it contributes to work efficiency and the well-being of workers.

If the physical working environment is not safeguarded, there may be many ill-effects on the enterprise and its workers. Accidents due to a poor working environment are unfortunately very common, especially in developing countries. As a result, there is often a loss of life and great suffering on the part of the workers and many man-days lost on the part of the enterprise. Poor lighting has given rise to many health problems, such as eyestrain, and predisposed workers to accidents and reduced productivity or quality of work. Excessive temperature and humidity have resulted in serious discomfort and poor morale of workers. High noise levels have caused deafness in thousands of workers. Improper handling or storage of hazardous materials has led to poisoning.

In many cases, there are overriding dangers or problems that require careful technical solutions. For example, the degree of toxicity of hazardous substances is not easily known to the employer or workers. The effects of noise can eventually lead to deafness, but the hearing loss may not be observed for many years. It is too late when we find symptom of poisoning from chemicals or deafness due to noise. There are therefore regulatory measures covered by laws and regulations which must be followed. At times, technical advice is indispensable to identify effective solutions, and exchange of information between enterprises with similar operations can be helpful.

However, there are a number of measures that can be undertaken by the employer himself as part of his daily responsibilities. A workplace which is adequately designed with good lighting and ventilation, isolation of noisy machines, separate handling of hazardous substances and ample space for workers, contributes greatly to a proper physical environment.

The solutions to environmental problems are often simple and inexpensive. It is often true that prevention is better than cure. Commonsense and foresight may be all that is necessary, sometimes with a small amount of care and money. At other times, problems may have already occurred. The management may realise that a problem exists because of complaints by workers or because of careful assessment of existing hazards. There may also be high labour turnover or absence rates or other indicators of poor morale or low productivity among workers.

At other times, consultations between workers and supervisors or management have led to fruitful results. Often ideas for solutions develop because someone in an enterprise had seen or read about improvements in similar cases. Thus it could be very useful to make it a habit to visit other enterprises in the neighbourhood, especially those in the same line of business.

A note of caution should be made concerning environmental problems. It is always wise to seek advice when dealing with specific hazards. An effective strategy for the control of these specific hazards, as in mechanical hazards or dealing with harmful substances, should make use of all the experience and skills available. The various experts dealing with the different aspects of the physical working environment should be consulted when and where necessary. There is no hard and fast rule on this. A reasonable level of awareness and basic knowledge of the subject would go a long way towards making the right decisions in this matter.