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Simple procedures will help avoid office injuries

An injured worker is never in the best interest of the company. Working in an office is relatively safe, compared to the construction industry, for example. Still, injuries happen, but many may be prevented.

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries publishes the Safety and Health Core Rules for nearly all employers in our state. L&I spokesperson Elaine Fischer highlighted the following core rules for office workers:

  • Portable ladders should be inspected regularly, kept in good condition, and used only as intended.
  • Control chemical or biologically hazardous agents to prevent injury.
  • Protect nonsmokers from second-hand tobacco smoke by designating and properly ventilating a clearly marked smoking area, if smoking is allowed indoors. Restrooms, hallways, stairways and lunchrooms should be smoke-free.
  • Provide clean water for drinking and washing. Lighting should be adequate for the task.
  • There needs to be a well-known evacuation plan in the event of emergencies such as fire, earthquake or chemical spills.
  • Falls cause many injuries. When carrying a large load, be certain it is not too heavy, and your vision is not blocked. If help is needed, get a coworker or a handcart. Tripping hazards, such as cluttered aisles, electrical or phone cords, a curled edge on the carpet or chair pad, should be eliminated. Any liquid spill should be cleaned up immediately.
  • Fire and electrical safety should be addressed. First aid training should be conducted. Everyone should know where the office first aid kit is, as well as who is knowledgeable to use it.
  • Properly loading a file cabinet can help prevent its tipping and injuring workers. Cabinet or desk drawers should not be left open, and should be opened and closed only using the handles.

Fischer says that motor vehicle accidents are one of the leading causes of death in all industries. If there is a company owned vehicle, is it in safe condition and are employees sent to defensive driving classes? Is there a policy requiring seat belts to be worn in the car? Is there a policy that while driving on company business, no cell phone calls will take place? Some of these may be legal, some just good cautions.

There are a group of injuries known as repetitive strain injuries , of which carpal tunnel syndrome is one. Ergonomics is the science of adjusting the work environment to the human body for health and productivity. More women than men are subject to repetitive injuries in the office, often because they are working in an environment scaled to the male body.

Debbie Laudenslager, human resources director for KPS, says, “We tend to really focus on work stations and set them up ergonomically appropriately, reviewing all requests, and looking at recommendations from doctors.” That includes an armrest, plus the height and placement of the monitor and keyboard.

Ergonomics ideas include optimal lighting, eliminating glare, which can affect posture.

An adjustable chair for good back support can help prevent back strain. Changing positions frequently, and taking breaks every 2 to 3 hours can keep workers healthier. The seat height should allow the feet to rest flat on the floor. If it cannot be adjusted, using a footrest will work. The thighs should be horizontal, lower legs vertical. Proper posture and relaxation are essential.

A telephone headset for frequent phone users may help prevent neck injury.

Linda Thomson's picture
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