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Safety in the Office

Many people think of occupational health & Safety as the type of dangers lurking around construction sites or in factories. However, office workers also face many unique challenges to their safety and health.

Historically, the office has been considered a relatively safe and healthy place to work. Increasingly, however, office workers have expressed concerns about the office environment and their working conditions.

Below are some of the possible issues to consider.

 

Types of Office Accidents

The most common office accident is falling. Falls account for the greatest number of disabling injuries. They result in the most severe injuries and the highest percentage of lost workdays due to such injuries. Falls from chairs occur when workers lean back to tilt their chairs, place their feet on a desk, sit down without looking, and rise from or move around in a chair.
Falls on stairs also occur, but more precaution is usually exercised on stairs because the fall hazard they pose is recognised. Slips, Trips and Falls.

Slips, trips and falls can result from poor housekeeping such as wet surfaces, electrical cords improperly placed and walkways obstructed by waste. Falls also occur when workers stand on chairs or other office furniture to reach elevated objects.

Injuries from strain and overexertion frequently occur when office workers attempt to move or improperly lift heavy objects. Office workers sustain muscular and back injuries by carrying or moving books, office furniture, equipment and supplies without assistance. They may exacerbate such injuries by the stretching, twisting and bending required by the office routine.

Office workers are injured when struck by objects. File drawers may fall from the cabinet when pulled too far, typewriters can fall from a rolling table, or doors opened from the side opposite the worker may strike the employee. Similarly, injuries occur when workers strike objects. Employees bump into doors and desks. File cabinets inadvertently left open are a source of injury.

Air Pollution.

Our awareness about indoor air quality has increased in recent years. Energy conservation programs resulted in changes to building design. Buildings have been sealed and ventilation rates reduced in an effort to prevent the infiltration of untempered outside air (hot, humid air in the summer and cold, dry air in the winter). These changes were made to reduce operating costs but may have had a negative impact on indoor air quality.

Indoor air quality problems are generally classified as “sick building syndrome” (SBS). Conditions associated with sick building syndrome are not easily traced to a specific substance, but are usually believed to result from some unidentified contaminant or combination of contaminants. The symptoms associated with SBS include:

  • cough
  • eye irritation
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • nose
  • irritation
  • dry mucous membranes
  • hoarseness
  • respiratory infections
  • dry skin
  • irritation of the throat
  • wheezing
  • erythema (skin reddening)
  • mental fatigue

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

In today’s office work environment, personal desktop and laptop computers are as commonplace as the office desk itself. A poorly designed computer workstation and work habits can lead to discomfort and, if continued, can result in chronic pain. By applying sound ergonomic principles, these problems can be avoided. Ergonomics is the study of how people, their equipment, tools and the environment work together. In the workplace, the goal of ergonomics is to adapt the environment to ensure worker productivity, comfort and safety.

 By working to identify and eliminate certain risk factors, ergonomic principles can be applied to avoid one particular type of injury known as a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD), also often referred to as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). Musculoskeletal disorders are disorders of the soft tissues including those of the muscles, tendons and nerves. They are associated with repeated exertions or movements of the body or parts of the body, awkward postures, and extreme force. Unlike other types of injuries that occur as the result of acute or sudden trauma, MSDs are most often the result of chronic, or long term, exposure to certain risk factors. Some but not all of the risk factors associated with the development of MSDs due to poor computer workstation design include static posture, awkward postures, repetition and individual factors

Bad posture from overuse or improper use of DSE can cause fatigue, eye strain, upper limb problems and backache. These problems can also be experienced from poorly designed workstations or work environments. The causes may not always be obvious. Take a look at the Sitting Comfortably booklet from unison and see if you need to change the way you work?

Fire Safety?

Offices are considered to be a moderate fire risk and fires usually occur as the result of somebodies carelessness. The four principle risks are

  • Electrical Appliances can be a source of fire if they have been subjected to misuse and occasionally an electrical faults on apparatus because they have not been serviced regularly, take a look at your equipment, has it been PAT Tested in the last year? All electrical equipment should be tested annually and keep the staff informed of the possible dangers associated with the different types of equipment.
  • Kitchenettes or tea rooms can be a risk dependent on what has been provided especially if food that is cooking is left unattended. Full dining facilities and kitchens are a high risk but this is lessened by having staff in attendance at all times.
  • A higher fire risk are storerooms, rooms where the photo copying equipment and stationery is stored because flammable liquids may be present and a large quantity of flammable goods are stored with limited supervision. Good housekeeping and ensuring the rooms are keep as tidy as possible will reduce the risk, this also applies to the premises as a whole. Also ensure the dangers are discussed at any training sessions.
  • Tradesmen on the premises, especially those that use apparatus that is capable of starting a fire, like blow lamps, gas torches, metal angle cutters, etc. One needs to ensure a high degree of supervision with suitable fire fighting equipment available during and after their presence. Give the area they have been working in a thorough inspection and make sure no hot spots or small fires have been missed.

Further reading on Fire safety can be found here.

 

 

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