Offices are safe places to work in compared to industrial and construction sites, but injuries that do occur in office environments are not inconsequential, and can result in disabling injuries. Be aware of your surroundings and your activities in an office, and consider the possible consequences just as seriously as you would in totally unfamiliar surroundings. An office may not look or sound like a sawmill or foundry, but if you are not paying attention to a hazard because it doesn't look scary, it can still hurt you quite badly.
Common Accident Types
Falls are the most common office accident. Injuries may result from slips, or falls from chairs and elevations. Slip and trip injuries may be caused by wet floors, worn footwear, trash on the floor, or a combination. Chair falls can occur when a person sits, rises, or moves on a chair. Leaning back and tilting chairs are also causes. Falls from elevations are represented by situations when standing on chairs or other office furniture, and ladders.
Injuries due to overexertion occur when employees attempt to move heavy objects. Reaching, stretching, twisting, bending down, and straightening the spine are associated with these injuries. Even activities which do not appear likely to strain a person's stamina can result in severely painful injuries. For example, a person's back can be "thrown out" from no more than bending down incautiously to pick up a piece of paper.
"Striking against" objects include injuries resulting from bumping into doors, desks, file cabinets, open drawers, and other individuals.
"Objects striking" workers usually involve a falling object - file cabinets, drawers, office machines, and doors. In our seismically active location, consideration should be taken in how shelves are loaded and protected, especially when someone normally sits beneath the stored materials.
Repetitive motion injuries, also known as "cumulative trauma", include tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Computer keying is a frequently cited cause of this injury, although it has many causes and confounding factors. Prevention of repetitive motion injuries involves addressing issues pertaining to an individual's workstation and work habits. If you suspect you are at risk of such an injury, inform your supervisor and request a workstation ergonomic evaluation from EH&S.
To control any type of accident, hazards must be eliminated and exposures reduced. Office design should be efficient, convenient, and safe.
File cabinets are a common source of injuries. File drawers should be kept closed when not removing or replacing materials. A full top drawer with empty or partially filled bottom drawers can cause the cabinet to tip over. File drawers should not open to narrow aisles. Do not place cabinets next to doors. During earthquakes, unsecured cabinets have fallen over, blocking doors. Cabinets should be bolted together or fastened to the floor or wall. Don't store heavy materials on top of cabinets.
Aisles through work areas should be unobstructed. Wastebaskets should be placed where people will not accidentally trip over them. Obstructions, including electrical cords, should be placed against walls or partitions, under desks, or in corners. Worn or warped mats under chairs should be replaced. Rubber or plastic rain mats should be replaced when torn or when the edges are curled.
Use of electric extension cords should be avoided if at all possible. Extension cords are designed for temporary use only, meaning they cannot replace permanent wiring for equipment. Cords should be kept out of aisles, and if cords must cross the floor, they need to be covered with rubber mats designed for this purpose.
Electrical appliances need to be maintained and regularly inspected for defects. Only U.L.-listed appliances are acceptable. Frequent removal of plugs from electrical outlets reduces the life expectancy of the cord. Appliances should have power switches so that the cords do not need to be unplugged to shut off power. Portable space heaters are allowed if they meet these conditions:
- Certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (such as Underwriters Laboratories, or NSF)
- Equipped with automatic tip-over shut-off protection.
- Power cord is never run under rugs, carpeting or furniture
- Power cord plugged directly into a wall outlet, not into a surge protector, multi-outlet box or extension cord
- Never operated unattended
- Circuit breaker does not trip
Office equipment should not be placed near the edge of tables or desks. Heavy equipment, including computers and monitors, should be secured to prevent it from falling over. Heavy or awkward loads should be moved by at least two individuals. Don't attempt to move furniture alone. Use stepstools or stepladders instead of chairs to reach high shelves. Electrical appliances, including paper shredders and electric typewriters, need to be grounded or double insulated.