Hidden Dangers – Office Safety
GEMMA COLLINS DOYLE
Health and Safety Consultant at EazySAFE

The office is not the first place you would think of when you think of safety at work! Office places would not usually fall into the high-risk category, but this does not mean that no hazards exist here. Let’s take a closer look. A job where most work tasks are carried out while sitting in a chair in a climate-controlled office would, of course, seem less hazardous than an employee working on a building site, for example. However, surprisingly enough, several hidden or less known hazards can be present in an office setting. Once you start taking a closer look, you will see that this area does indeed deserve attention!

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“Just because you spend your days in an office instead of a warehouse or manufacturing area, it does not mean that you are completely protected from hazards and potential on the job injuries”

Slips, Trips and Falls

This type of office injury is by far the most common type of injury reported. There are several things that can be done to reduce these types of accidents, but of course, employee awareness is always important too.

  • Housekeeping: An obvious suggestion for sure, but such a common issue within many companies, especially in medium to small sized organisations. It is an easy one to overlook and may not even be noticed by management or the employees, but to an outsider, it is usually quite obvious! Keeping walkways clear, working spaces tidy and ensuring cables are tied up and kept out of harm’s way will reduce the number of slips, trips and falls. Some companies have a no flip flop/sandals policy and also insist that employees hold the handrail on the staircases.
  • Floor surface: Frayed carpets, loose floor tiles, wet surfaces can all contribute to an unnecessary slip. Ensure flooring is maintained, repaired and slips are reported and cleaned up.
  • Falls from height: Hands up who else has stood on a chair with wheels to reach something at height? I bet we all have! Not the safest thing to do at all! Never use office chairs to reach something high. Ensure there is a kick stool or something suitable to use.

Ergonomic Injuries

Without a doubt, the most prevalent injuries that office workers are up against is related to ergonomics. Most workers spend most of their working day sitting at their desk and working on a computer. They are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement. Sometimes these injuries take years to manifest.  It can be difficult to detect these types of injuries and hard to find treat if not managed.

  • A VDU/DSE assessment: will help to recognise any hazards and in turn, rectify them so that the risk can be eliminated. Many companies are now investing in ergonomic desks which can be height adjusted so that employees can also stand while working!
  • Lighting: An important aspect for any employee who is working at a desk, using a computer or carrying out administration duties.
  • Ergonomic design: During a VDU assessment this aspect will be looked at closely. It’s important to look at the whole set up, including the desk, the chair, where items are located, what extra items may be needed as footrests and document holders.

A VDU Assessment of an employee’s workstation will cover all of these (and more) while creating an action list that should be easy to follow. Workstation Safety relies on employee awareness and an understanding of why it is important.

Manual Handling

All office areas will include manual handling duties. Inappropriate manual handling task commonly performed in offices, include moving and lifting paper boxes, carrying heavy file folders, books or documents, moving furniture and equipment, as well as prolonged and intense repetitive tasks, such as keyboard or mouse use. Musculoskeletal disorders: these disorders account for nearly 45% of all work-related injuries.

  • Equipment: Minimising the need for manual handling should be your first port of call. Is there equipment that can be used to reduce or remove lifting/pushing/pulling?
  • Training: All staff should be trained in manual handling in accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work, (General Applications) Regulations 2007, Chapter 4 of Part 2.

Fire Safety

With the number of electrical devices, combustible materials and the fact that a large number of people are likely to work in an office area, fire safety is of utmost importance.

  • Electrical Safety: Ensure that all items with a plug are PAT tested (Portable Appliance Test). The regulations on Portable Appliance Testing in Ireland can be found in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations, SI 299, 2007. The regulation directs employers to ensure that all portable equipment used in their place of work is periodically inspected and tested by a competent person
  • Training: All employees should be trained in Fire Safety, which should include basic knowledge regarding: evacuation, fire extinguishers, escape routes, fire doors etc.
  • Alarms/Fire Extinguishers: All fire safety equipment should be tested and maintained on a regular basis or in accordance with manufactures recommendations.

Work Related Stress

Bet you were wondering when I was going to get to this hot topic! So many people I meet and talk to seem to be under a lot of pressure in their work environment. In fact, it seems to be the norm these days. Whilst a little bit of stress at work is normal, it is not normal, nor acceptable to be in a constant state of stress at work. For example, stress can help people complete their tasks more efficiently and accomplish goals, but it should never be at the cost of their health.

  • Negative side effects: Anxiety, irritability, depression, sleeping issues, eating disorders, fatigue, lack of concentration, loss of interested in work. These are all symptoms of work-related stress.
  • Low productivity: All the above symptoms contribute to low productivity, which of course will lead to poor morale and unhappy working atmosphere for more than just the employee that is affected.
  • Causes: Stress can be caused by poor work organization, being over/under worked, lack of support from the employer/colleagues, lack of respect, bullying and many other factors. Many of these may be unseen, but should not be avoided when concerning occupational health and safety.
  • After hours work: In addition to certain disorders such as fatigue, the risks of certain hazards may be increased when working after hours. This is due to the inability to get immediate assistance, whether from colleagues or supervisors.
As you can see, office areas still need to be assessed when it comes to Health and Safety. Just because you spend your days in an office instead of a warehouse or manufacturing area, it does not mean that you are completely protected from hazards and potential on the job injuries.  Offices are filled with people, and people are prone to mistakes that can lead to minor or severe accidents. Carry out your office risk assessments and take action!

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