Working in an office may not be as dangerous as working in a mine or an oil refinery, but offices have several dangers you must be aware of so you can protect yourself on the job. For example, researchers from San Diego State University found that office surfaces may have as many as 500 different types of bacteria on them. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that workers in the management, professional, scientific and technical fields were affected by a total of 24,390 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in 2011.
Cleaning products and toner cartridges contain chemicals that could irritate your skin and eyes if they are not handled properly. Any time you handle chemicals in the office, wear gloves to protect your skin. Because some products release fumes, check to see if special ventilation is required to use them safely. When you are finished using a product that contains chemicals, store the product according to the storage recommendations in the material safety data sheet, which contains handling and storage recommendations for each chemical used in the workplace.
The Seattle Fire Department Fire Prevention Division reports that 39 percent of office fires result from electrical causes. Before using an electrical item, if the cord is within sight, make sure it is not frayed or damaged in any way. Because paper jammed in a copy machine can cause a fire, always fix copier jams as soon as possible. Accumulations of paper and other combustible materials also increase the risk of fires spreading, so clean your work area regularly to avoid this type of clutter. Employers also play an important role in preventing office fires, as they set the policies that pertain to smoking and other fire hazards. Managers should work with safety, maintenance or facilities management personnel to conduct regular fire safety inspections.
Slips and Trips
Slips and trips increase the risk of falls, so preventing them should be a top priority. Slips occur due to a lack of friction between the feet and the walking surface, while trips occur when someone loses her balance after striking an object with her foot. Reduce the risk of slips and trips by looking out for potential hazards. Clean up spills immediately, as wet floors increase the risk for slips. If you notice loose carpeting or floor mats, report them to someone who has the authority to request repair or replacement. Cluttered walkways and uneven walking surfaces increase the risk of trips, so keep your work area clean and report any uneven surfaces to management. Keeping bottom drawers closed also reduces the risk of tripping. Managers and supervisors should identify high-risk areas, conduct periodic safety inspections, address fall hazards promptly and ensure that employees receive appropriate training to help them avoid slips, trips and falls.
Performing repeated movements increases the risk for repetitive stress injuries such as bursitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Reduce the risk of these injuries by taking steps to protect your body. When you type, sit with your feet flat on the floor and your back against your chair, as recommended by Dr. Alexander Haselkorn, a hand and wrist surgeon in Paterson, New Jersey. Keep the keyboard and mouse at the edge of the desk so that you do not have to reach for them. If you have to lift heavy boxes of files or other materials, use proper lifting techniques. Brookhaven National Laboratory recommends using your leg muscles to lift instead of using the muscles in your lower back. Hold heavy items close to you to avoid straining your back muscles. If an item is too heavy for you to lift easily, ask a colleague to help you.
Because desks, computer keyboards and other office surfaces act as a breeding ground for bacteria, good office hygiene is important. Remove bacteria by cleaning your desk, telephone, keyboard, computer mouse and chair with disinfecting wipes. Elevator buttons, handrails and doorknobs may also harbor germs, so wash your hands or use a liquid hand cleanser after touching these and other surfaces that are touched by many people.
- Environmental Protection Agency: Chemical Safety in the Workplace for Small Businesses
- U.S. Department of Labor: Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Recommended Format for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)
- Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: Campus Facility Services: Office Fire Hazards
- University of Wisconsin Milwaukee: Accident Prevention: Slips, Trips and Falls
- Alexander Haselkorn, M.D., P.A.: Proper Posture and Ergonomic Tips
- Brookhaven National Laboratory: Safe Lifting and Carrying Techniques
- PLOS ONE: Office Space Bacterial Abundance and Diversity in Three Metropolitan Areas
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away From Work, 2011
- Seattle Fire Department Fire Prevention Division: Workplace Fire Safety for Staff
- Seattle University: Office Safety Procedures
- University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire: Loss Prevention and Safety: OSHA Offers Health Tips for Office Workers
- N.C. Department of Labor: A Guide to Office Safety and Health Occupational Safety and Health Division: A Guide to Office Safety and Health
- Stanford University: Slip, Trip and Fall Prevention Guide
- Lynchburg's Business Magazine: Cutting Down on Germs at Work: Tips for Reducing the Spread
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