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Don’t Overlook These Common Office Injury and Illness Hazards

by Jary D. Winstead

There is a wealth of information available regarding ergonomics in the workplace and the importance of organizing a workstation to fit the person using it. This information can help prevent musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs. Yet business owners and employees overlook many other common office hazards that continue to cause workplace injuries and illnesses. Take a walk through your office and consider these pointers to identify opportunities to avoid these commonly overlooked hazards.

Office Cleanliness and Orderliness

Cleanliness and orderliness are possibly the most important considerations when it comes to office injury and illness prevention. For one thing, keeping your office clean and orderly are the two best ways to prevent office fires.

All walking and working surfaces should be free of obstacles, and have proper clearances. Walkways are common collection points for waste containers, boxes, file carts and other materials that can cause slips, trips and falls. Training employees to maintain clear walkways is essential in injury prevention and assures a safe exit in case of an emergency.

Trash cans should be emptied at least daily or as often as needed to prevent overflow. This reduces both the accumulation of combustible materials and hazards that can cause slips, trips and falls. Waste containers should be located away from heat and ignition sources — this is a common hazard when personal heaters are used at workstations. Storage shelving and cabinets should be kept neat and materials stacked to prevent tip-over.

File drawers, desk drawers and cabinet doors should be kept closed at all times. Drawers and doors that have been left open are often the cause of a workplace trip and fall injury.

Many people are affected by poor air quality and contaminants. Reducing the accumulation of dusts, pollens, dirt and other buildup on all surfaces, especially in carpeting, reduces respiratory irritants, infections and illnesses.

Cleanliness and orderliness may also prevent the spread of illnesses and diseases in the workplace. Restrooms, breakrooms, lunch areas, refrigerators, containers, servingware and utensils must be regularly sanitized. This will help to prevent bacteria growth, mold and insects. Food items must be discarded when the “Use by” date has passed or if they are spoiled. It’s important that employees remove their food items frequently and prior to spoiling.

Good Hygiene Practices

Common colds, the flu and even some diseases can spread quickly through an office when proper hygiene is not practiced. Employees need to be instructed in good hygiene practices, when and how to wash their hands, and how to reduce the spread of illnesses and diseases. The availability of proper hand-washing facilities, antibacterial soap, hand sanitizer and single-use hand towels will greatly reduce the spread of illnesses and diseases in the office environment. Posting good hygiene practices is a great way to reinforce the importance of good hygiene.

Maintenance

Proper maintenance can also reduce injuries and illnesses. Pay particularly close attention to hazards like damaged flooring, electrical problems and structural concerns. Hazard awareness training will help employees identify workplace hazards, allowing those hazards to be eliminated before an injury or illness occurs.

Routine maintenance of the building’s ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems is another important component in illness prevention. 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.

Guard Against the Most Common Workplace Injury: Slip, Trip and Fall Prevention

Slips, trips and falls are responsible for most workplace injuries. But you can take action to prevent them.

Clean up all spills immediately and post safety signs identifying hazards in areas that are being cleaned or that have recently been cleaned of a spill. Post signs identifying hazards in areas prone to water accumulation and wet surfaces at interior and exterior building locations. Nonslip runners or rugs may be used to reduce the likelihood of slips, trips and falls.

Be sure transitions between different walking surfaces are constructed free of edges that may cause a person to trip and fall. Use nonslip materials on interior and exterior steps and ramps. And use ice melting products during winter months on exterior steps, ramps and walkways, as well as at entry and exit areas. This can greatly reduce falls due to wet or icy conditions.

Electrical cords are also a commonly overlooked trip and fall hazard. Cords should be strung out of foot traffic areas and should never be strung through combustible materials or beneath rugs or carpeting. Remember that extension cords are not intended to be a permanent power source, so having a licensed electrician install additional permanent power sources will help you reduce injuries and fire hazards in your office.

Jary D. Winstead is an occupational safety consultant and the owner of Work Safety Services.

This article provides general information, and is not intended to provide personalized legal or medical advice; please consult with your own advisor and review local/state/federal regulatory guidelines and requirements if you have any questions. 

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