An Injury-Free Office

Accidents in the office generally occur much less frequently than mishaps to field employees; however the resulting injuries can be just as costly and painful. Each year in the United States between 300 and 400 deaths occur in an office setting. A broken bone sustained from a fall in an office costs just as much to treat as a broken bone caused by a fall into an open trench at a water main leak. Of course not all office injuries are serious, but even the smallest injury could result in lost workdays, which interfere with normal operations. Office safety is everyone’s responsibility. It involves two major factors; 1) developing employee interest in safe practices both on and off the job; and  2) correcting unsafe conditions. Falls are the most common office accident, accounting for the greatest number of disabling injuries. In fact the disabling injury rate of falls among office employees is 2 ½ times higher than the rate for employees that work outside of an office environment. 
 
Walking, climbing step-ladders or even stairs, even sitting in a chair – all of these activities can result in a fall. To prevent these accidents, keep floors clean, dry and free of clutter. Also, make sure they’re in good repair. Telephone, computer,  and extension cords should not be placed where you or a co-worker could trip over them. Where collision hazards at blind corners exist, properly placed angled mirrors could be installed to eliminate peers running into each other. Special walkway or up/down step problems may be handled by painting a centerline or the steps and placing signage up warning about the problem condition. Replacing defective chairs can reduce the number of falls from chairs. Chairs should never be used as ladders. Ladders should be equipped with non-slip material on the feet and treads; they should also be suited for the purpose intended and properly maintained.  
 
Stairs are safer when equipped with anti-slip treads, approved handrails, and adequate lighting. Also avoid running up and down or skipping steps. Don’t go up and down steps with such a load in your arms that you can not see the steps. And finally, use the handrail for added support. 
 
Striking against an object can also cause many office injuries. These accidents occur when employees do not notice an open desk or file drawer and they knock into them. Whether seated at your desk or while walking, be aware that rushing may cause you an injury. Always walk in designated aisles, never take short-cuts. Striking against sharp burrs on metal filing cabinets and office furniture can cause injuries. These burrs may also catch clothing that could cause a trip or strain. Splinters and loose veneer on desks and chairs can also produce similar results. Repairs to chipped or broken furniture should be made immediately. 
 
Employees being struck by an object are another common office injury. Falling equipment and storage on poorly stacked overstocked shelves above the shoulders cause many of these injuries. Filing cabinets that are unbalanced due to over-loaded upper drawers and under-loaded lower drawers can easily topple over and entrap an employee. People also sustain injuries when caught in or between machinery or equipment. 
 
When closing drawers in desks or filing cabinets make sure your hands, with fingers brought to the palm, are held against the drawer face to avoid catching your fingers in the drawer. Never reach your hand into a desk drawer without first looking for sharps like scissors, pencils, or letter openers. Serious lacerations could occur.  
 
Strains from overexertion often disable employees. These injuries usually occur when employees move heavy or awkward loads. Avoid sudden jerky movement when lifting or moving a heavy object. Ask for help when attempting a heavy task. Don’t attempt to move furniture or heavy office equipment alone, get help. Use your legs rather than your arms and back when lifting. 
 
Numerous fires causing loss of life and property have been the result of neglecting some simple fire prevention rules. You should be familiar with fire escapes, fire alarm systems, and firefighting equipment. By observing strict housekeeping standards, storing flammable substances in approved receptacles, not burning candles or incense in offices or bathrooms, not leaving portable heaters on under your desk after hours, turning off coffee pots and not allowing them to boil dry can prevent the ravaging effects of fire. 
 
Through a program of scheduled office environment inspections, unsafe conditions can be recognized and corrected before they lead to an accident. Take a few minutes at least once per week to look around your work environment and identify potential safety hazards. Look for situations that we have previously discussed, items cluttering a walkway, a flammable liquid being stored near the water heater, a broken chair in the council chambers, an extension cord crossing a walkway, if you can remove or fix it then do so. If you can’t put up a sign or mark it “do not use” and fill out a work order to fix it or get it replaced.  
 
Keep in mind that office machinery and equipment can be hazardous if used improperly. Keep machine guards in place and read the instruction manual thoroughly. Even a simple procedure like adding toner to a copier requires special precautions. Some toners are extremely caustic and can cause serious illness or death if not handled properly, read the labels. Flammables and combustibles require special storage and should be locked up in fireproof cabinets.  
 
Every employee should know the location and proper use of firefighting equipment. All rooms and hallways should have a fire exit schematic posted and employees should know the proper procedure for evacuating the building in case of fire and what their responsibilities are when evacuating the premises.  
 
Although many injuries sustained in an office affect only the employee involved, remember that your actions can also affect others. Citizens don’t know the policies and procedures, newer employees look to you, the veteran as an example. They are dependent on you to be an example and show them the way. 
 
  
 
Contact OMAG Loss Control Services if you have questions or suggestions for other topics related to Municipal Workplace Safety Issues.  1 (800) 234-9461 or email kprichard@omag.org
 

 

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