When most people think of workplace injuries and accidents, they may visualize a factory floor with loud, powerful machinery or heavy equipment operators and construction sites. The comfortable and quiet surroundings of company offices don’t seem like the setting where injury regularly lurks. Yet office injuries and accidents add up in the tens of thousands every year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, leading to lost time and earnings and, in some cases, long-term or permanent disability.
Workplace safety is a responsibility of management and staff alike, and improved performance starts with awareness. A few moments now may save hours, days, or weeks down the road, not to mention reduced suffering for both the potential victims and the co-workers who’d have to pick up the slack. Today, we look at some of the most common office injury hazards and basic preventive measures.
Slips and trips
One of the most common workplace injuries, slipping and tripping can happen anywhere, in any office. Danger comes from exposed power cords, floor mats, wet floors, spills, blocked aisles, and many more hazards that aren’t recognized until it’s too late.
- Daily and weekly workplace inspections conducted by a workers’ safety team
- Properly secured power, phone, and network cables
- Salt and sand for traction outside the office in winter conditions
- Easily accessible spill clean-up supplies, such as a mop and paper towels
- Hazard signs for areas that are frequently wet or slippery
Sitting at desks for long hours can cause slowly occurring injuries that stem from poor ergonomics. Because of the gradual onset, these hazards are often too subtle to notice until it’s too late. Poor posture and repeated motions create irritations and inflammations that range from annoying to debilitating. Common injuries include lower back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Ergonomically designed workstations that can be modified to fit individual users
- Adjustable chairs with firm back support and feet on the ground
- Ergonomics training for posture and workstation adjustment
Another potential health issue from time spent at computer workstations, eye strain may result from improper lighting levels, glare, monitor positioning, and failure to take adequate breaks from computer tasks. While you’re looking at digital displays, you may not be blinking as frequently as you do at other times. This can lead to a condition called dry eye syndrome, causing eye fatigue and irritation.
- Proper task lighting, including additional lighting for detailed work
- Overhead lighting that minimizes glare from monitor screens
- Blinds or curtains to block outdoor ambient light
- 10-minute breaks every hour to rest and refocus your eyes
Respiratory disorders such as occupational asthma, allergies, and chemical sensitivities may occur if your office air quality is poor. Cleaning chemicals, overcrowding, blocked airflow, excess dryness and humidity, and inadequate ventilation can create a toxic mix. Poor air quality is another quiet hazard that may need time to cause injury and is difficult to identify.
- An effective maintenance plan for the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems, including regular cleaning and filter changes
- Effective housekeeping in the office to control dust, dirt, and pollen
- Regular cleaning and disinfecting of restrooms and break rooms, including appliances such as refrigerators, coffee makers, and microwaves
Office fires typically exceed 15,000 occurrences each year, resulting in over $600 million in property damage. Problems often stem from power cables, such as damaged or frayed cables, improper use of extension cords, removing the ground prong from a power cable, space heater use, and overloaded outlets.
- Routine inspections for power cord damage and proper use of electrical outlets
- Using extension cords approved by a certifying laboratory in temporary situations only
- Prominent fire extinguishers that are maintained regularly
- Employee training for the use of fire extinguishers
- Fire evacuation plan