Get access to the exclusive HR Resources you need to succeed in 2018.
Sign up for free email newsletters and get more SHRM content delivered to your inbox.
Is your employee handbook keeping up with the changing world of work? With SHRM's Employee Handbook Builder get peace of mind that your handbook is up-to-date.
Build competencies, establish credibility and advance your career—while earning PDCs—at SHRM Seminars in 14 cities across the U.S. this fall.
Gain the skills you need to rise to the next level in your career. Jon us at SHRM's Leadership Development Forum, October 2-3 in Boston.
Members may download one copy of our sample forms and templates for your personal use within your organization. Please note that all such forms and policies should be reviewed by your legal counsel for compliance with applicable law, and should be modified to suit your organization’s culture, industry, and practices. Neither members nor non-members may reproduce such samples in any other way (e.g., to republish in a book or use for a commercial purpose) without SHRM’s permission. To request permission for specific items, click on the “reuse permissions” button on the page where you find the item.
You may think working in a comfy, climate-controlled office is safe and hazard-free, but there are many risks to your safety and health all around you. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports tens of thousands of injuries or work-related health problems that office workers suffer each year.
Slips and trips are the most common office accident, accounting for the greatest number of injuries, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Other office hazards include sprains and strains, poor workstation ergonomics, indoor air-quality problems, insufficient or excessive lighting, noise, electrical hazards and random acts of violence.
Being aware of these dangers is the first step in eliminating them and reducing the odds of injuries occurring. HR can implement processes to identify dangers and correct problems, including instituting safety walkthroughs, setting up a formal reporting system for unsafe conditions and conducting training sessions on correcting safety hazards.
Here are five of the most common office hazards:
Slips, Trips and Falls
Universal slip, trip and fall culprits include unattended spills, wet floors, exposed cords, unstable work surfaces, uneven floors, loose rugs and cluttered areas.
Inclement weather conditions, such as rain, snow and ice, create outdoor slip hazards on exterior steps, ramps, walkways, entry and exit areas, and parking lots, and indoor hazards when wet floors are not cleaned up promptly. Ice-melting products and nonslip runners can greatly reduce slip, trip and fall hazards during winter months.
Clean up all spills immediately, and post signs identifying hazards in areas that are being cleaned or that have recently been cleaned, and in areas prone to water accumulation and wet surfaces.
Office walkways should be kept clear, as boxes and other clutter can create a trip hazard.
Electrical and telephone cords should also be properly secured and not stretched across aisles or walkways, and carpets should not be frayed or buckled.
Office workers spend many hours a day seated at a desk, working on a computer, resulting in ergonomic strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement. These types of hazards can be difficult to detect.
A variety of adjustable chairs, desks, keyboards, etc., should be offered to accommodate the widest range of work styles. Employees should be told how to set up and operate adjustable equipment for the best workstation fit.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers
an eTool illustrating general ergonomics guidelines for setting up a computer workstation and performing computer-related tasks:
HR can monitor employees for musculoskeletal disorder symptoms. OSHA advises paying attention to any pain, fatigue, numbness or weakness, as these may be signs of an ergonomics problem and the start of a more serious issue.
Spending a large portion of your workday at the computer can cause eyestrain, according to the Mayo Clinic. Eyes may become dry and irritated, and workers may begin having trouble focusing. Light levels should be suitable for the work task—for instance, manual detail work may require higher levels of lighting, but staring at a computer monitor does not, the NSC said.
You can cut down on excessive glare by closing blinds on windows and dimming the overhead lights. Correctly positioning monitors slightly below eye level, minimizing screen glare and increasing computer font size all can help alleviate eyestrain.
To reduce eyestrain and fatigue, OSHA recommends taking a 10-minute break for every hour you spend looking at a computer screen, giving your eyes a rest and focusing on things at varying distances.
According to the latest available data, fire departments responded to approximately 17,500 office fires in 2012, which resulted in $643 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Routine office inspections could reduce this danger.
According to the NSC:
If employees use space heaters, verify that the appliances are approved for commercial use and have a switch that automatically shuts them off if they tip over. Space heaters should not be placed near combustible materials like paper.
Objects should never be placed closer than 18 inches below fire-sprinkler heads, to allow a full range of coverage. Emergency-exit routes should never be blocked or locked.
It’s also critical that employees be trained on what to do if a fire erupts. Are your workers
trained in the basic use of fire extinguishers?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, when an employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use, the employer must also train workers on the general principles of fire extinguisher use. Employers have the option of requiring all employees to immediately evacuate the premises.
Indoor Air Quality
The prevalence of poor indoor air quality has contributed to a rise in occupational asthma and other respiratory disorders, chemical sensitivity and allergies, according to the NSC. Some of the reasons for poor air quality are inadequate ventilation systems; office overcrowding; the presence of cleaning chemicals and pesticides; water damage and mold growth; cubicle design that blocks off air flow to work areas; too much or too little humidity; and poor housekeeping, which leads to dirty work environments.
The office’s air quality can be greatly improved by proper maintenance, cleaning and filtration of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning system. This will help reduce respiratory irritants, infections and illnesses, the NSC said.
Preventing the accumulation of dust, pollen, dirt and other buildup on all surfaces, especially in carpeting, will also cut down on respiratory irritants, infections and illnesses.
Cleanliness and orderliness, too, may prevent the spread of illnesses and diseases in the workplace. Restrooms, break rooms, lunch areas and refrigerators should be regularly sanitized, and workers should be told to throw out food before it spoils.
Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
Follow him on Twitter
You have successfully saved this page as a bookmark.
Please confirm that you want to proceed with deleting bookmark.
You have successfully removed bookmark.
Please log in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please sign in as a SHRM member before saving bookmarks.
Please purchase a SHRM membership before saving bookmarks.
An error has occurred
Recommended for you
CA Resources at Your Fingertips
SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies