Working in an office setting sometimes gives a false sense of safety and security. While an office may not have the heavy machinery of a manufacturing plant or employees working from heights as in construction, a general office setting still has risks. This article will outline some of the risks and what you can do to mitigate the effects of these risks in your office.
Working at a computer for hours can lead to repetitive motion injuries and other musculoskeletal issues that can be difficult to detect. These include (but are not limited to) carpal tunnel syndrome, lower back pain, tightened hip flexors, and joint problems. Here are a few tips for promoting ergonomics in your office:
Adjustable equipment. Provide employees with workstation equipment they can adjust to their comfort, such as chairs, desks, and monitor stands. While there may be a hefty cost upfront, it can reduce the cost of insurance claims, medical treatments, employee replacement, absenteeism, and lost productivity. The equipment will not work effectively if not adjusted correctly, so know how to best use it and train employees how to adjust it to a level that will best suit them. According to OSHA, a properly adjusted workstation should include the following:
Chair, keyboard, & monitor positioned in a straight line with your body.
A relaxed, neutral posture with the head level and in-line with the torso.
An adjusted chair that provides back support allowing the user to sit up straight with feet flat on the ground.
Arms that hang loosely at shoulders and elbows at a 90-degree angle while typing.
An adjustable keyboard tray with the keyboard and mouse positioned at a comfortable height, usually lower than desk surface. Place mouse next to keyboard and keep it as close as possible to your body to avoid reaching.
Provide document holders. Switching from looking down at a hard copy on a desk and then up to a monitor can strain the neck. Providing document holders that reduce the back-and-forth motion can alleviate neck issues.
Be mindful. Encourage employees to be aware of how they are feeling at work, especially if they feel pain, fatigue, numbness, or weakness, as these could be signs of an ergonomic issue or something more severe. Encourage them to take walking breaks and stretch throughout the day to avoid tension caused from working at a computer.
Looking at a computer screen for hours on end can lead to vision problems, such as dry eyes and difficulty focusing. Fortunately, there are a few fixes you can implement to alleviate eye strain:
Office lighting. Rely more on task lighting than overhead lighting. Employees who are working at computers for most of the day do not need to have the overhead lights on at their highest level. Dim the overhead lights and instead provide employees with desk lights they can adjust themselves.
Monitors. Light can reflect off computer monitors and cause a distracting glare. This can be reduced by positioning monitors opposite of windows, closing blinds, or using glare reduction filters. Also, provide employees with adjustable monitor stands so they can adjust them to the proper height. Encourage employees to position monitors slightly below eye level 20-26 inches from their eyes.
Encourage breaks. OSHA recommends taking a 10-minute break for every hour spent working at a computer. This does not have to be a total break from work, but rather a break from looking at a computer screen. Looking at things at various distances will help the eyes relax and reduce strain.
Slips & falls
With filing cabinets, cords, and wet floors, slips and falls can easily occur in an office setting. Here are a few ways to reduce the likelihood of a fall:
Declutter. Keep hallways and general work areas clear of clutter and boxes and files safely stacked. Discard what is no longer needed.
Tame cords. Keep cords off the floor as much as possible. For those that do need to go on the floor, try to keep them out of hallways and always secure them to the ground and cover them with a mat.
Reach carefully. If employees need to reach high places, keep a stepping stool accessible and require employees to use that rather than an unsafe alternative, such as a rolling chair.
Wet floors. Post signage identifying floors wet from cleaning and place nonslip mats at entryways to absorb snow or rain water. If your office is in a snowy location, keep plenty of ice melt on hand to treat icy sidewalks and entryways. When mats start to disintegrate, promptly replace them.
Fire poses danger to both people and property. Here are a few tips to protect both:
Fire safety plan. Create a plan for evacuation in the event of a fire and practice it regularly. Ensure the fire escape path is always clear, and never block or lock fire escape doors. Keep fire extinguishers on hand and train employees how to use them.
Check your cords. Check cords to make sure they are not fraying and don't have exposed wires and replace as necessary. Never overload outlets. Remember, the most common causes of fire regarding extension cords are from improper use and overloading.
Space heaters. Consider if you want to allow employees to use space heaters. If you do, inspect them to ensure they are approved for commercial use and will turn off automatically if tipped over.
Stay clear. Keep the area 18 inches below fire sprinkler heads clear to maximize sprinkler coverage.