Workers everywhere, including those in relatively safe office environments, must know the hazards in their workplace and manage risks to prevent work-related injury and illness. Office workers must be aware of where danger lurks at their desk, around the office, and anywhere they work.
Transportation incidents are the number one reported cause of occupational death for office workers. Driver safety and a well-planned transportation policy discourage accidents, but responsible driving relies on workers themselves who should:
- Limit and combine trips;
- Ensure vehicles are inspected and maintained;
- Obey traffic laws;
- Drive defensively; and
- Allow zero-tolerance for impaired and distracted driving.
Workplace violence is a deadly threat to the safety of office workers, especially those working with the public, handling money, and those working in isolated situations or high-crime areas.
Most workplace violence occurs during another crime like robbery, but any individual can perpetrate workplace violence, including customers, coworkers and family members of workers. A comprehensive, zero-tolerance workplace violence and harassment prevention program includes workplace controls for job-specific threats and interventions including conflict resolution, safe hiring and firing practices, and employee assistance programs.
Trips, slips and falls are a leading cause of lost-time office injuries. A quick visual sweep of any office is likely to reveal several tripping or slipping hazards, including loose carpet, extension cords, stairs, and material spills.
Preventing injuries from trips, slips, falls and contact with objects demands care when workers move through the office.
- Keep doors either completely open or completely closed.
- Open and move through doors cautiously.
- Walk toward the center of hallways, permitting others to pass on the left.
- Hold the handrail when using stairs.
- Avoid distractions while walking.
- Only open one drawer on a cabinet, and close it before opening another or leaving.
- Never use an office chair as a ladder, and use ladders safely.
Cuts, Punctures, Caught-In, Caught-Between, and Pinching Injuries
To prevent cuts; punctures; and caught-in, caught-between and pinching injuries, workers must interact with sharp objects and mechanical devices with caution. Precautions include:
- Using equipment — from heavy machinery to thumbtacks — only for its designed purpose according to manufacturer instructions and safe work practices;
- Taking care handling sharp or pinching objects, and cleaning up broken glass and other sharp messes safely; and
- Using handles appropriately when available.
Ergonomics and Material Handling
Injuries and work-stress illness can be gradual and cumulative, result from instantaneous trauma, or a combination of both. The ergonomics of an office are paramount to prevent such injuries. Office workers should do the following:
- Take periodic breaks, including stretches and relaxation exercises like deep breathing;
- Look at something at least 20 feet away for 20-seconds every 20 minutes when using a computer screen;
- Arrange workspaces to prevent cumulative trauma and long-term stress (chair adjustment, screen placement, keyboard and mouse use, posture, wrist supports, telephones etc.) and intermix types of work; and
- Use anti-fatigue mats, footrests and other accommodations as needed when expected to remain in one position for a long period.
Lifting correctly protects against painful, often costly, back injuries. Try these steps to ensure safe lifting:
- Know where your load is going, and ensure the path is clear. Get help when needed.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, close to the load, and bend at the leg. Use your entire hand to get a sturdy, even grip, and keep the load close to your body.
- Focus the lift through the lower extremities, keeping the torso centered and steady and feet firmly planted.
- When moving with a load, change directions with a step. Avoid twisting bending and reaching. Make sure the load does not obstruct your view.
- Put the load down in in reverse of how it was lifted; do not drop, shove or jerk it into place.
Jay Acker leads a staff at www.safetyservicescompany.com that produces safety manuals and related safety materials for business customers. In addition to the courseware, they make safety training kits, safety course materials and safety posters.