A Safer Office

A recent issue of Safety + Health included an article on recognizing the hidden safety dangers in an office. The author noted that a job where most of the tasks are completed while sitting in a chair, in a climate-controlled environment, would not seem fraught with danger. However, a surprising number of hazards can be present in an office setting.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80,410 private-industry office and administrative workers suffered on-the-job injuries in 2008. Many of these injuries could have been prevented had workers or supervisors recognized the risks and implemented simple workplace modifications to help mitigate them.

The author gave 25 steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of injury among your office staff. I have included a subset of the safety tips for our readers. All 25 of the steps can be viewed through the link provided at the end of this article.

Falls

Slips, trips, and falls, the most common type of office injury, sidelined 25,790 workers in 2008, according to BLS. The National Safety Council says employees are 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling fall in an office setting than anywhere else. Several hazards contribute to these injuries, although most can be significantly reduced, often by raising awareness among employees.

1. Stay clutter-free
Boxes, files, and various items piled in walkways can create a tripping hazard, according to OSHA. Be certain that all materials are safely stored in their proper location to prevent buildup of clutter in walkways. Further, in addition to posing an electrical hazard, stretching cords across walkways or under rugs creates a tripping hazard, so ensure all cords are properly secured and covered.

2. Step on up
Standing on chairs – particularly rolling office chairs – is a significant fall hazard. Workers who need to reach something at an elevated height should use a stepladder. The American Ladder Institute cautions that stepladders must be fully opened and placed on level, firm ground. Workers should never climb higher than the step indicated as the highest safe standing level.

Ergonomics injuries

Perhaps the most prevalent injuries in an office setting are related to ergonomics. Because office workers spend the bulk of their day seated at a desk and working on a computer, they are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement. Ergonomics hazards can be difficult to detect.

7. Provide adjustable equipment
One size does not fit all in an office workstation. Adjustability is the key. Chairs, work surfaces, monitor stands, etc., should all be adjustable in order to accommodate the widest range of employees. Although employers may be reluctant to pay for expensive ergonomic equipment, experts insist the equipment is a wise investment. The cost of the health claims that stem from not having these devices is much higher.

Vision problems

Although looking at a computer monitor cannot damage your eyes, spending a large portion of your workday at the computer can cause eyestrain, according to Prevent Blindness America. Eyes can become dry and irritated, and workers may begin having trouble focusing. A few work area adjustments can help alleviate some of these issues.

12. Dim the lights and use task lamps
Florescent lights in office buildings often are too bright for optimal vision. According to the American Optometric Association, light that is at about half-normal office levels is preferred. This can be achieved by removing some bulbs from overhead fixtures. If more light is needed for a particular task, provide individual task lamps rather than increasing overall lighting. The light bulbs in the lamps should be fully recessed to avoid the creation of a bright spot in the worker’s line of vision.

Fire safety

Local fire departments responded to approximately 3,830 office fires each year between 2004 and 2008, according to the National Fire Protection Association. On average, these fires caused four civilian deaths and 37 civilian injuries annually. Some routine inspections around the office can help reduce the likelihood of fire causing such devastation.

18. Maintain cords in good repair
According to the Office of Compliance, damaged and ungrounded power cords pose a serious fire hazard and violate safety codes. Cords should be inspected regularly for wear and taken out of service if they are frayed or have exposed wire. Further, cords should never be used if the third prong has been damaged or removed. Make sure cords are not overloading outlets. The most common causes of fires started by extension cords are improper use and overloading. Extension cords should be approved by a certifying laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories, and only used temporarily to connect one device at a time.

Administrative controls

In addition to employee training and improved equipment, certain administrative controls can aid hazard recognition and the elimination of potentially dangerous situations.

25. Establish employee reporting systems
Establishing an employee reporting system can be the best way for organizations to get a handle on potential hazards before they cause injury. Consider creating an anonymous reporting process that encourages workers to come forward with their concerns. Research shows that early intervention yields the most cost-efficient results.

For the full list of 25 office safety tips, go to this web page at the National Safety Council web site.