Office Safety Essentials

When someone mentions workplace safety, it typically conjures up thoughts of different types of industrial settings. Many people — including safety professionals — have a tendency to overlook safety in other types of work environments. For example, despite the common belief that an office provides a safe work environment, many hazards exist that can cause serious injuries and health problems. About one-third of the workforce is employed in an office setting. Even low rates of work-related injuries and illnesses can have an immense impact on employee safety and health. Today’s offices are substantially different from those of 20 years ago. Sweeping changes have occurred in the American workplace as a result of new technology and ever-changing automation.

 

Look Beyond the Obvious

 

In addition to obvious hazards, such as a slippery floor or open file drawer, an office may also contain hazards such as poor lighting, noise, poorly designed furniture and equipment, and machines that emit noxious gases and fumes. Even the nature of office work itself has produced a whole host of stress-related symptoms and musculoskeletal strains. Office workers sustain approximately 70,000 fractures, dislocations, sprains, strains and contusions each year. The leading types of disabling accidents that occur within the office are falls, strains and overexertion, being struck by an object or being caught in or between objects. Workers can also be injured from foreign substances in the eye, spilled hot liquids and electric shock. In recent years, illness has increased among the office worker population. This may be attributed, in part, to the increased presence of environmental toxins within the office and to stress-producing factors associated with the automated office. Resulting illnesses may include respiratory problems, skin diseases and stress-related conditions.

 

Don’t Overlook Ventilation

 

One of the most common office hazards to be overlooked is poor ventilation. There are a number of sources of air pollution in the office, including:

  • Synthetic chemicals (e.g., cleaning fluids, asbestos)
  • Natural agents (e.g., carbon monoxide, radon)

An office ventilation system that delivers quality indoor air and provides for comfortable humidity and temperature is a necessity. In areas where printing or copying machines exist, an exhaust ventilation system that draws particulates and gases away from employees’ breathing zone should be installed. In addition, office machines and ventilation systems should be checked regularly.