While office settings are not often thought of as high-risk job sites, employees working in corporate offices, clerical offices, and office parks may still face a variety of hazards.
By taking steps to prevent injuries on the job, you’re helping to safeguard your employees from things like slips and falls, ergonomic injuries, and eye strain. For every dollar spent on a workers’ comp claim, $5 is spent on indirect costs, like lost productivity, hiring and retraining staff, and replacing or repairing damaged equipment.
The most common injuries experienced by office-based employees are:
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Sprains, strains, and soft-tissue injuries
- Overexertion (repetitive use injuries)
- Hazardous contact with objects and equipment
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs provides general guidance for implementing a health and safety program.
General safety guidelines include:
- Require that all employee injuries—no matter how seemingly small—are reported immediately
- Provide first aid kits throughout the workplace
- Provide medical exams when required by OSHA regulations
- Allow employees to access medical and exposure records
- Keep records of workplace injuries and illnesses
Workplace safety tips for preventing injuries in the office
By implementing proper safety techniques, you can help reduce the number of workers’ comp claims made by your employees—and even reduce your overall costs. Be sure that all employees, even part-time help and trainees, are well trained in safety procedures.
Slips, trips, and falls
Slips, trips, and falls are the most common injuries that occur in offices. In fact, people are two-and-half times more likely to have a disabling fall in an office setting than in any other part of the workplace, according to the National Safety Council.
To help prevent injuries from slips, falls, and trips, employers should make sure:
- Employees who need to reach high shelves or tall cabinets should use stepladders instead of things like rolling office chairs or desks
- Any wiring that’s not permanently installed should be fastened down or moved
- Use floor mats by exterior doors to trap water
- Close file and desk drawers when they aren’t in use.
- Install convex mirrors at hallway intersections to help employees see each other as they emerge into hallways or other common areas
- Ensure adequate lighting in hallways, storage rooms, parking lots, and other common areas
- Broken asphalt and sidewalks are repaired
Sprains and strains
Soft-tissue injuries like muscle sprains and strains also are prevalent in office settings.
To help prevent sprains and strains employers should:
- Store materials properly and ensure that they are not placed so high that they are a hazard
- Store heavy objects on or near the floor so that they’re less likely to fall on an employee’s foot or head
- Discourage employees from leaning back on chairs
Repetitive stress and ergonomic injuries
Some office jobs involve eight hours in front of a computer screen (with little movement other than clicking a mouse). Workers who spend too much time seated at their desks in an uncomfortable position can experience pain, numbness, fatigue, and weakness as a result of non-ergonomic workstation setups. These types of injuries worsen slowly over time and can be somewhat difficult to detect.
“Workplace ergonomics” is the science of designing the workplace to account for the physical capabilities and limitations of the worker. To help prevent injuries, invest in supportive chairs, adjustable desks, and adjustable computers to help provide the proper ergonomics. Be sure to also train employees how to use them properly (OSHA’s Computer Workstation eTool may be a useful resource).
- Sit up straight in a supportive chair
- Place their mouse and keyboard below desk level
- Adjust the height of their chair so their feet can easily reach the floor
- Take regular breaks to get up and move around (the Pomodoro Technique may be helpful)
- Use a headset for prolonged or frequent phone use (since cradling the phone between the shoulder and ear can cause neck and back pain)
It’s important to remember that office chairs and desks can wear out just like other equipment. Broken or missing casters and other parts can make a chair or desk unstable, so be sure to inspect and repair office furniture regularly.
One of the most common types of office stress injuries is eye strain.
To help prevent eye strain injuries:
- Place monitors slightly below eye level and about two feet from workers’ faces to reduce eye strain
- Encourage employees to take a 10-minute break from looking at a computer screen every hour and deliberately look at 3D objects at various points and depths in their visual field
- Ensure proper lighting at each workstation as either too much or too little light can create shadows or glare—which can cause painful headaches, eye pain, and vision issues (vision experts recommend fewer bright overhead lights and more task lighting at each workstation)
Poor air quality and environmental toxins
At many office complexes, windows can’t be opened and some offices also have a limited number of open doors for security reasons. Employees may be sensitive to common toxins in office environments like cleaning products, toner, mold growth, and outgassing from rugs and furniture. Without fresh air, this sensitivity can be more severe.
To improve air quality:
- Provide adequate ventilation of fresh air
- Ensure proper humidity levels
- Conduct regular maintenance of heating and air conditioning systems
- Replace ventilation filters frequently
- Provide a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each of the hazardous chemicals your employees may encounter (like copy machine toner, pesticides, and glue)
- Avoid office overcrowding
- Have the building thoroughly cleaned regularly
Surprising but true: office fires account for hundreds of millions of dollars in damage every year.
To help prevent fires:
- Conduct regular inspections to identify fire hazards and ways to minimize them
- Replace frayed power cords, cords with damaged or missing third prongs, or overloaded extension cords
- Avoid running electrical cords under carpet or through windows and doorways (also, don’t fasten them with unapproved items like staples)
- Ensure space heaters are kept away from combustible materials and are certified for commercial use and will automatically turn off if tipped over
- Make sure that fire extinguishers are easily accessible and that employees are trained on how to use them
- Properly mark all emergency exits and ensure that fire doors and escape routes aren’t blocked by furniture or boxes
- Consider holding regular fire drills to make sure employees know the safest ways to exit and where to wait outside (so that managers can conduct a headcount in case of an emergency)
Noise levels in excess of 85 decibels—similar to the sound of heavy traffic—can cause hearing damage. While the noise levels in an office aren’t typically loud enough to cause hearing loss, they can still be a nuisance.
To help reduce noise pollution:
- Separate workstations from noisy equipment like printers and ventilation systems
- Increase the distance between workstations or use noise-absorbing materials like cubicle walls, carpeting, and acoustic tile
How to prepare for the unexpected injuries
While you can’t plan for every type of emergency, every office workplace should have a plan for dealing with a variety of scenarios, including medical emergencies, fires, floods, and chemical spills. All workers should be trained on what’s in the safety plan and what they should do specifically in the case of an emergency.
How to incentivize office safety
Accidents can happen anywhere. Remind employees why safety training is important and provide continual reminders and retraining.
To help encourage your employees to make safety a priority at work, consider offering prizes or awards for those who follow the safety program or hit time milestones while remaining injury-free. Prizes like scratch-off lottery tickets, coffee gift cards, or 30 minutes of extra paid-time-off can help motivate your team.
Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.