According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, private industry employers have reported 2.6 million or more nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses every year in recent history. And, while it’s true your employees generally are safer in offices than in factories or on construction sites, office work comes with its own risks, too.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration notes that office safety is an employer obligation. The agency requires that businesses of all sizes provide an office environment free from hazards. Providing a safe workplace makes sense from a business perspective, as well. There were nearly 1.2 million workplace injuries and illnesses that caused a private industry worker to miss at least one day of work in 2020, reducing productivity and, in some cases, resulting in increased costs from workers’ compensation claims.
What Are the Most Common Office Injuries?
Employers can and should take steps to address workplace hazards and unsafe conditions. In an office setting, typical injuries include:
1. Slips, Trips and Falls
These accidents sideline tens of thousands of workers every year. Employers can curb them by:
- Using carpeting and other skid-resistant flooring to reduce slips and falls – especially in areas where people come in from outside and could have wet shoes from rain or snow.
- Cleaning up spills or other wet spots immediately.
- Storing materials properly and out of the way. Boxes, files and items stacked in walkways become tripping hazards.
- Not stretching electrical cords across walking paths or under rugs.
- Maintaining good lighting in hallways, storage rooms and other areas that tend to be dark.
- Making stable stepladders that are in good working condition available to workers who need to access something out of reach to discourage them from standing on chairs – especially chairs with wheels – which poses a significant fall risk.
- Tacking down loose carpeting.
- Training employees to close desk drawers and file cabinets and follow the other best practices described above.
2. Ergonomic Injuries
OSHA defines ergonomic injuries as those that occur when the type of work, body positions and working conditions cause physical strain. Employees who sit at desks and work on computers most of the day are prone to back and neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome and similar injuries that result from poor posture and repetitive movements. These injuries can start as mild stiffness or muscle soreness but, over time, ergonomic hazards – which are often difficult to spot – can result in serious harm.
To help prevent such injuries, employers should:
- Provide adjustable chairs, work surfaces, keyboards, monitors, document stands or holders (to prevent neck strain from repeatedly looking down to a desk and back up to a computer screen) and other equipment. For the greatest ergonomic benefit, make sure employees know how to operate any equipment provided.
- Instruct employees to position their chairs so their feet can be flat on the floor, which is a prerequisite to an adjustable chair’s ability to reduce pain and discomfort.
- Tailor chair, desk and computer monitor heights to each worker.
- Remind employees to keep their mouse right beside their keyboard to avoid neck and shoulder strain caused by reaching for a mouse that’s too far away.
3. Eye Strain
Staring at a computer screen for too long often leads to eye strain, which can cause blurry vision, pain, headaches, fatigue and lack of concentration. The following work area adjustments can help keep employees healthy and productive:
- Use individual task lamps where more light is needed.
- Place computer monitors 20-26 inches from workers’ heads and slightly below eye level to reduce the surface area of the eyes exposed to air. That can reduce tear evaporation and help keep eyes hydrated. Consider using monitors that can adjust by tilting or swiveling to facilitate proper positioning.
- Install glare reduction filters and avoid placing monitors across from uncovered windows to reduce screen glare and related eye strain.
- Instruct workers to increase font sizes on computer documents to avoid straining both their vision and their necks (which happens when the head is pushed forward to see smaller print).
- Encourage workers to rest their eyes by periodically focusing on things at varying distances.
Workplace safety can’t be an afterthought. It must be incorporated into your culture and day-to-day operations. A qualified professional employer organization like Axcet HR Solutions can help your company manage safety risks by reviewing your workplace for hazards, leading safety walkthroughs, recommending hazard corrections and conducting related employee training.