Hidden Dangers — Safety in the Office5 min read
By Kyle Weygandt, Director of Member Safety
Whether working remotely or reporting on-site, the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot about the workplace. From the safety protocols put into place by the Centers for Disease Control to the guidelines enacted by governors and mayors across the country, safety procedures changed a great deal over the past 1 ½ years. However, with all of these changes occurring, it is important that we remember the many other safety issues that exist in the workplace, including in an office setting.
If asked to think of dangers in the workplace, an office is not likely to be the first setting that comes to mind. While offices don’t usually fall into the high-risk category, hazards do exist. We all have to keep our eyes open to identify and correct these hazards, making sure to notify maintenance personnel or safety professionals when necessary.
The question is, what types of hazards should you be on the lookout for in an office setting? Several hidden or lesser-known hazards can be present in an office setting.
Slips, trips and falls
Slips, trips and falls are one of the most common types of injury reported in an office setting, but there are several ways to reduce these accidents:
- Good housekeeping: While it may be an easy task to overlook, keeping walkways clear, working spaces tidy and ensuring that all cables are tied up and kept out of harm’s way is the best way to prevent slips, trips and falls. It is even good practice to insist that employees hold the handrail on staircases. Keep an eye out for any potential tripping hazards in your workspace and clear them when you spot them.
- Safe surfaces: Frayed carpets, loose floor tiles and wet flooring can all contribute to an unnecessary slip, trip or fall. Ensure that flooring is well maintained by reporting any areas where repairs are necessary to maintenance and safety staff. If a slip, trip or fall occurs because of unsafe flooring, reporting it can lead to repairs, helping to prevent future accidents.
- Be respectful of heights: While climbing may not be a requirement of an office job, standing on top of an unsafe object to reach something high up sometimes occurs. Never use office chairs or other items not meant for climbing to reach something high up. Instead, use a footstool or ladder that is intended for this purpose.
- Employee awareness: Employees can’t always plan for the things that might cause slips, trips and falls. Whether it’s an item that fell on the floor or an extension cord being used improperly, spatial awareness on the part of employees can help to prevent accidents. Always keep an eye out for hazards.
Ergonomic injuries are perhaps the most prevalent type of injury facing office workers as they spend most of their working day sitting at a desk and working on a computer. This leaves them prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement. Sometimes these injuries take years to manifest, making them difficult to detect.
With that said, you do not have to be an ergonomic specialist to identify ergonomic injuries or the situations that lead to them.
- Regularly assess: A regular assessment of work habits relating to ergonomics will help to identify and rectify any potential issues before an injury occurs. Look at posture, leg and arm placement and repetitive movements as they relate to the workstation.
- Ensure proper lighting: An important, yet often overlooked aspect of ergonomics is lighting. Whether using a computer or carrying out administrative duties, avoid unnecessary eye strain by properly lighting the workspace.
- Consider the entire picture: When considering the ergonomics of an office space, it is important to look at the entire set up, including the desk, chair and location of items like computer screens or keyboards. An ergonomic keyboard won’t do much good if the chair is sitting too high, and an ergonomic chair won’t do much good if document holders and drawers require constant bending and twisting.
Whether you are lifting boxes, carrying heavy file folders, moving furniture or simply taking on prolonged and intense repetitive tasks, such as using a keyboard or mouse, there are ways to avoid future pain or injury from these manual tasks.
- Use equipment: Minimizing the need for manual handling should be your first plan of action. Is there a cart or hand truck you can use to reduce or remove the need for lifting, pushing or pulling? If so, save yourself the potential injury and use it.
- Training: Employees should be regularly reminded and properly trained on how to manually lift items and materials in the office. Proper technique can make for an easier task and lower risk of injury.
Offices are filled with a lot of electrical devices and combustible materials, resulting in the potential for fire hazards. When you add people into the mix, it becomes clear why fire safety should be treated with the utmost importance.
- Electrical safety: Ensure that all items with a plug are completely plugged in and the ground pin is attached. If an electric device is ever sparking or smoldering, make sure to unplug it or shut off power.
- Training: Employees should be regularly trained in emergency action plans, which should include sections on fire safety. This should cover basic knowledge regarding evacuation, fire extinguishers, escape routes, fire doors and designated meeting places where an employee and guest head count can safely occur.
- Test and maintain equipment: All fire safety equipment — such as alarms, extinguishers or sprinklers — should be tested and maintained on a regular basis or in accordance with manufactures recommendations. Don’t wait for a fire to occur to discover your equipment no longer works.
Many people in a modern office setting find themselves under an immense amount of pressure. From juggling projects to meeting deadlines, a little bit of stress is just a normal part of the workplace. However, it is not normal or acceptable to be in a constant state of stress at work, as this can lead to a number of issues.
- Negative side effects: High amounts of stress over an extended period of time can have dangerous side effects. These include anxiety, irritability, depression, sleeping issues, eating disorders, fatigue, lack of concentration, loss of interest in work and more. These side effects are detrimental to both the employee and employer. Both parties should make an effort to address the root of the issue.
- Low productivity: All of the symptoms listed above serve only to contribute to lower productivity levels, which then leads to poor morale and an unhappy working atmosphere, potentially cascading from one employee to the next. Try to address the root of the issue before this point is reached.
- Be aware of potential causes: High levels of stress can be caused by poor organization, being over- or under-worked, a lack of support or respect from the employer or colleagues, bullying and many other factors. It is important to remain aware of potential causes so that the issue can be remedied when it occurs. It should be noted that many of these issues occur unseen, which is why they should be regularly covered in training.
Though they may not be as readily apparent as those in industrial settings, there are potential hazards that employees and employers must be aware of in an office setting. Office areas must still be assessed when it comes to health and safety. Carry out an office risk assessment and take action before accidents or injuries can occur.
AMP’s safety team stands ready to assist member communities with these issues. If your community has questions about undertaking an office risk assessment or if you would like to request virtual safety training, please contact me at [email protected].