From construction sites to the factory floor, safety is the key to keeping workers healthy and whole. But that doesn’t mean safety isn’t important for their office counterparts. While many of the threats may be less imminent and the injuries less severe, office safety is critical to the wellness of all employees.
Let’s look at six areas to consider for your office safety program (in no particular order).
As we’re currently living through a pandemic, let’s start with the elephant in the room—COVID-19. Though these considerations may seem temporary, your office safety program should include plans and guidelines for future pandemics. And the general sanitizing and hygiene practices may be worthwhile all of the time. Office workers tend to be in closer proximity, so pandemic safety is essential in indoor workspaces.
- Hand Hygiene – Supply soap and hand sanitizers throughout your facility and encourage frequent and thorough handwashing.
- Cleaning Solutions – Use wipes, solutions, and cleansers to kill coronaviruses, influenzas, MRSA, and many other bacteria and viruses. Combining cleaning with handwashing is
critical to office safety.
- Masks – Encourage or require masks throughout your facilities, especially when social distancing is not possible. The CDC recommends face coverings during the current
- Social Distancing – Wherever possible, keep workers six feet apart to reduce the chance of spreading airborne contagions. Marking tape is a great way to provide visual reminders.
- Physical Barriers – Plexiglass barriers have become popular in stores and at check-out counters to protect workers when social distancing is not possible. In offices, these barriers
can be a good solution when desks are fewer than six feet apart.
Fall safety isn’t just for those that work at height. According to OSHA, the majority of general industry accidents and 15% of deaths are caused by slips, trips, and falls. Finding ways tto prevent falls is an essential element of office safety.
- General Housekeeping – Keep floors, walkways, stairways in your facility clean, dry, and free of debris. Additionally, ensure rugs and mats are secure with corners and edges flush to
- Aisles and Passageways – Keep all walkways around your facility clear. Marking permanent passageways is a great visual reminder to encourage office safety and prevent fall
- Stair Standards – Make sure stairways are always easily accessible. Keeping stairways clean, dry, and clear is critical. And non-slip coatings or treads can reduce slips, trips, and
- Cords – Secure cords around the office and never stretch a cord or cable across walkways.
Poor ergonomic office conditions can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). For workers who sit behind a desk all day, uncomfortable positions, movements, and repetitive actions can cause MSDs. Addressing ergonomic risk factors is critical to office safety.
When reviewing ergonomics in your office environment, keep an eye out for the following:
Awkward Postures – Unnatural positions and awkward postures, including extended, bent, or flexed positions that increase exertion and compress nerves, tendons, and blood vessels.
- Contact Stress – There is a potential for contact stress when soft tissue comes into contact with hard objects externally (e.g., desks) or externally (e.g., muscles, tendons, or nerves
- Poor Shoulder/Wrist Posture – Office working positions that prevent neutral shoulder and wrist alignments. High or low work surfaces and unsupported positions contribute to
- Wrist Deviations – Wrist movements that are unsupported and/or repetitious, including bending, twisting, and turning can cause MSDs (e.g., tunnel syndromes and tendonitis).
Something as simple as adjusting computer workstations can significantly improve office safety and prevent MSDs. OSHA provides the following guidance for improving posture and positioning for desk jobs:
- Position the top of your monitor at or slightly below eye level
- Keep your head and neck in-line with your torso
- Keep your shoulders relaxed
- Position your elbows close to your body and keep them supported
- Keep your lower back supported
- Position your wrists and hands in-line with forearms
- Ensure there is adequate room for your mouse and keyboard
- Keep your feet flat on the floor
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, between 2009 and 2018, there were 103,600 fires in nonresidential buildings. These fires resulted in 85 deaths, 1,025 injuries, and $2.6B in losses. The leading cause was cooking, followed by accidents, intentional, electrical malfunctions, and heating.
Your office safety program should include fire safety, including prevention, containment, and evacuation.
- Cords – Extension cord hazards can not only cause acute injury and death, but they can also result in fires. Ensure all cords and cables are in good shape and that extension cords
and power strips are not overloaded.
- Fire Extinguishers – To contain fires before they get out of control, place extinguishers within 150 feet of each other, depending on the types of flammables in your office
environment. Be sure to display current inspection tags, use clear signage, and allow easy access.
- Emergency Exits – According to OSHA requirements, all emergency exits should be marked with a lighted sign. Your office safety measures should include an exit route map at the
main entrances to your facility.
- Emergency Action Plan (EAP) – This is a written document required by OSHA standards [29 CFR 1910.38(a)]. Your emergency action plan should include:
o Evacuation procedures, including escape routes and floor plans
o Procedures for reporting and alerting authorities
o Procedures alerting staff and visitors
o Counting procedures for staff and visitors after EAP implementation
o Training staff on all EAP procedures
o Timelines for updating and maintaining the plan
Despite our best efforts, accidents can still occur. Training workers on basic first-aid techniques and maintaining first-aid kits and equipment are integral parts of office safety.
- First Aid Kits – Onsite first aid materials should be organized, conveniently located, and maintained. Scheduling quarterly reviews is an excellent way to ensure these kits are well
- Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) – According to the OSHA, AEDs are important, life-saving technology, playing a pivotal role in treating workplace cardiac arrest and
promoting office safety.
- Response Time – Note the approximate local EMT/fire response time.
- Records – Training records should be kept for responders.
Indoor air quality is the last of our office safety considerations, but it is certainly not the least of them. Especially in our current pandemic, air quality is a valid safety concern. Important elements to address include:
- Biological Contaminants – Allergens, bacteria, viruses, and mold can cause serious illnesses and exacerbate existing conditions.
- Chemical Pollutants – Emissions from office equipment (including office equipment, furniture, and floor coverings), cleaning products, chemical spills, gases, and tobacco smoke can
cause acute illness and chronic conditions.
- Particles – Dust, dirt, and other substances that may be too small to see can cause serious health issues.
From updating your HVAC system to creating policies to prevent air contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides An Office Building Occupants Guide to Indoor Air Quality to help you improve office safety.
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