With so much emphasis on safety in places such as laboratories and workshops throughout the month of September, it might be easy to overlook the commonplace hazards found in an office environment.
True, you may not handle chemicals or operate heavy machinery in an office, but accidents can still happen. In 2008 roughly 80,000 private-industry office and administrative workers suffered injuries while on the job, according to findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Indeed, it’s likely that many of those injuries could have been avoided had the risks been recognized and appropriate modifications implemented.
What kinds of risks are we talking about?
Consider your typical day and some of the tasks that you might complete—filing papers and folders, using a coffee maker, moving boxes, or delivering a report to a colleague on another floor of your building. Though these tasks are ordinary, they could place an individual at risk of serious injuries—especially if that person is not exercising awareness.
Some common causes of accidents include:
- Slipping, tripping and falling hazards
- Improper lifting and handling practices
- Cutting and puncturing hazards
- Machine accidents
- Ineffective or inefficient office layout and arrangement
- Dangerous electrical wiring
- Exposure to toxic substances
How can accidents be prevented?
Many of the causes listed above can be avoided through good housekeeping practices. Simply keeping the floor clean and maintaining a neat work area can reduce the majority of slipping, tripping and falling hazards. Slips, trips and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Tomorrow we will delve deeper into this topic by discussing major causes of slips, trips and falls as well as best practices for prevention.
Aside from the guidelines on general housekeeping, keep in mind the following recommendations that go a step further in creating a safer office environment.
- Prevent cuts and punctures:
- Use a liquid dispenser to seal envelopes—not your tongue.
- Wear gloves and use a broom and dustpan to pick up broken glass—don’t use your bare hands.
- Place broken glass or used blades in a rigid container, like a box, before depositing in the wastebasket.
- Prevent stress and fatigue that could lead to inattentiveness:
- Take mini-breaks throughout the day.
- Consider changing tasks once every two hours.
- Stretch your arms, neck and legs often.
- Try the 20-20-20 rule to maintain eye health: Look away from your monitor every 20 minutes, and stare at an object that is 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Prevent machine accidents:
- If you need to operate a machine that you are unfamiliar with, read the machine’s instructions or ask for directions from a qualified colleague.
- Secure machines that have a tendency to move during operation. Also, do not place machines with moving parts near the edge of a table or desk.
- Keep the following away from machinery with moving parts: long, loose hair; long, loose sleeves or pants; ties and scarves; loose belts; and jewelry.
- Close hand-operated paper cutters after each use, and activate the guard.
- Be careful when working on a copy machine. If you must open the machine for maintenance or repair, keep in mind that some parts may be hot. Always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines in regard to troubleshooting.
- Unplug defective machines and have them repaired immediately.
It’s worth discussing safe practices of common office furniture. Because items such as filing cabinets, chairs and desks are mainstays of an office environment, one might disregard the necessary precautions. Indeed, risk of injury rises when our awareness and caution are absent. Consider these suggestions when using:
- Filing cabinets
- These are a primary cause of office injuries as top-heavy drawers can cause a cabinet to topple over. Also, be careful of a cabinet’s sharp metal corners and drawers that can slam shut, pinching fingers. It is recommended that you open just one drawer at a time, and then close the drawer slowly.
- Do not lean back in or climb on any office chair. Do not roll chairs over electrical cords. Ensure that your chair’s back and seat height positions are comfortable.
- Make sure that desks are in good condition, and surfaces are free of nails and sharp edges. Do not climb on desks. Close desk drawers that are not in use. Verify that desks with spring-loaded tables function properly; the table should not spring with enough force to cause an injury.
In addition to these points, assess whether your equipment is properly arranged within your workstation. Some recommendations to keep in mind:
- Lighting around computers should illuminate the area without obscuring the display or causing a glare. Position your computer’s display, draperies, blinds and pictures to reduce glare during your workday. One way to do this would be to place the computer’s display at a right angle to the window.
- Position the computer’s display 20 to 28 inches away from your face. The center of the display should be 15 to 25 degrees below your line of vision.
- Your computer’s keyboard should be in an area that is accessible and comfortable. Position the keyboard so that the angle between your forearm and upper arm is between 80 and 120 degrees.
- Holding the telephone between your head and neck is a common cause of neck tension. To avoid this, use a headset or speakerphone if you are on the phone for extended periods of time.
When reviewing these recommendations, keep in mind that repetitive motion combined with improper workstation arrangement could contribute to muscle strains and lower back injuries, as well as cumulative trauma disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
For more information
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has put together guidelines on:
Michael Galyean, Dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at Texas Tech talks about the unique aspects of safety that students, faculty and staff in his department face.
If you have any comments or questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information in this blog is not exhaustive and should not be construed as containing all the necessary compliance, safety, or warning information available. Please make sure you consult with EH&S or appropriate supervisors for all safety information and procedures.