All workplaces have health and safety hazards, and offices are no exception. Whether you work from a home office or a leased commercial office, you’ll probably encounter a myriad of hazards. Some of these hazards are minor, whereas others are more significant. Regardless, there are hazards in your office that, when ignored, could lead to injury or illness. Below are 12 little-known health and safety hazards in offices.
#1) Exposed Electrical Cords
You should use caution when setting up your office to ensure that all electrical cords, as well as data cables, are concealed. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the most common type of injury sustained by office workers. Office workers, in fact, are over twice as likely to suffer a debilitating injury from falling than other workers. If you leave electrical cords or data cables exposed on the floor, you may inadvertently trip and fall on them.
Cable management is essential to creating a safe office. The golden rule of running electrical cords and data cables in an office is to keep them away from traffic paths. Don’t run a cord or cable across areas where you or other workers walk. Instead, run them behind your desk and either through the floor or ceiling. By keeping them away from traffic paths, they won’t pose a safety hazard.
#2) Loose Rugs
Along with exposed electrical cords, loose rugs can lead to slip-and-fall accidents in your office. From large area rugs to small runner rugs, all rugs in your office should be flush with the floor. Otherwise, you may trip and fall on them. Even if a rug is just slightly loose, it will protrude out to create a slip-and-fall hazard.
If you’re worried that a rug in your office will come loose, consider using a non-slip pad. As the name suggests, non-slip pads are designed to prevent rugs from slipping and, therefore, coming loose. Just place the non-slip pad between the floor and your rug to prevent it from coming loose. Alternatively, you can apply a few pieces of double-sided tape between the floor and your rug.
#3) Insufficient Lighting
Don’t underestimate the importance of lighting in your office. As explained by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) – Canada’s equivalent of the United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – insufficient lighting is a common health hazard in modern-day workplaces. With little or no lighting in your office, you’ll have a greater risk of falling. Lighting helps to reduce the risk of falls by allowing you to spot other hazardous objects so that you don’t trip over them.
Insufficient lighting may lead to eyestrain as well. Known medically as asthenopia, eyestrain refers to a broad group of fatigue-related eye injuries. If you’re forced to work in a dark office, your eye muscles may tense up. Over time, this constant tension in your eyes can cause eyestrain, which manifests as symptoms such as blurred vision and headache. To lower your risk of eyestrain, you must illuminate your office with a sufficient amount of lighting.
You might be surprised to learn that coffee is a safety hazard in offices. When freshly brewed, the temperature of coffee can exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit. To put that number into perspective, any liquid that’s just 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter can burn your skin. If you accidentally spill a cup of coffee, it could result in painful second- or even third-degree burns.
Statistics show roughly two-thirds of Americans drink coffee each day. Maybe you enjoy drinking black coffee, or perhaps you like mixing it with cream and sugar. Regardless, you should be careful when pouring, as well as drinking, coffee to avoid accidental spills. It only takes a brief splash of coffee to cause painful burns.
The easiest way to avoid coffee-related burns is to use a spill-proof thermos. Unlike conventional coffee mugs, spill-proof thermoses don’t have an open top; they have a closed top with a small hole. Spill-proof thermoses are designed to protect against spilled beverages. Some of them create a suction when you drink, whereas others contain friction pads that stick to desks and other surfaces. With a spill-proof thermos, you’ll be better protected against coffee-related burns when working in the office.
#5) Low-Quality Furniture
Another little-known safety hazard in offices is low-quality furniture. Sitting in a cheap office chair, for instance, may cause back pain. Office chairs made of cheap materials may fail to fully support your body weight. If your office chair has a vertical and flat backrest, it will compress your intervertebral discs. If your office chair doesn’t have armrests, on the other hand, the unsupported weight of your arms will stress your neck.
A cheap office desk can also be a safety hazard. Even if your chair is ergonomically designed, your desk may not be. An office desk that’s too high off the floor, for instance, may strain your neck and back by forcing you to look up at your computer monitor. The bottom line is that you need to invest in high-quality furniture that’s ergonomically designed to minimize physical stress and, therefore, your risk of injury when working in the office.
#6) Dim Computer Monitor
If your job requires you to use a computer for an extended period in a typical workday, you should adjust the brightness of your monitor. Generally speaking, the brighter your monitor, the better. With a dim monitor, you’ll have a shallower field depth that forces your eyes to work harder. Increasing. Increasing the brightness of your monitor allows your eyes to adjust more easily, which in turn lowers the risk of eyestrain and other vision problems.
Keep in mind, the now-outdated cathode-ray tube (CTR) computers can cause eyestrain as well. CRT monitors suffer from screen flicker in which the brightness changes during refresh cycles. When screen flicker occurs, it forces your pupils to dilate, after which they’ll contract back to their normal size. As your pupils constantly dilate and contract, your eyes will become strained.
Rather than using a CRT monitor, use either a liquid crystal display (LCD) or an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) monitor. The former is the most common, though the latter offers an exceptional level of image quality. Neither LCD nor OLED monitors suffer from screen flicker, however, so they have a low risk of straining your eyes. Just remember to increase the brightness for an optimal viewing experience.
#7) Indoor Air Pollution
A health hazard in offices that is often overlooked is indoor air pollution. Even if the air inside your home looks clean, it may contain pollutants like dust, bacteria, mold, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chemicals. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the air inside a typical home or building is 200% to 500% more polluted than outdoor air. Depending on the level of air pollution in your office, as well as the type of pollutants, long-term exposure may cause respiratory issues, headaches, or even heart disease.
So, what steps can you take to create cleaner air in your office? Assuming the weather is nice, opening the windows to bring in fresh air and remove stale air can have a positive impact on air quality. You can also decorate your office with plants to improve air quality. Plants are Mother Nature’s very own air filters. They remove toxins and pollutants from the air while releasing fresh oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Check out this article for more tips on how to create cleaner air in your office.
#8) Sharp Objects
Sharp objects are a common hazard in offices. If an object has a blade or other sharp edge, touching it the wrong way could result in a laceration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lacerations account for nearly one in three of all nonfatal injuries sustained by workers. The good news is that most instances of lacerations can be avoided by using caution when touching and handling sharp objects.
Some of the most common types of sharp objects found in offices include the following:
- Paper cutters
- Letter openers
- Safety cutters
- Pencil sharpeners
- Box cutters
- Razor blades
#9) Portable Heaters
During the winter, you may feel compelled to use a portable heater in your office. Also known as space heaters, they offer a supplemental form of heating so that you aren’t restricted to using your office’s central heating system. Portable heaters plug into an electrical outlet, which powers a heating element to produce hot air. The problem with portable heaters, though, is that they carry a risk of starting a fire.
If a portable heater tips over on the floor, it may ignite the carpet. Even if a space heater remains upright, it may experience an electrical failure, such as a short circuit, that triggers a fire. Ideally, it’s best to avoid portable heaters altogether in the office, but if you’re going to use one, ask the building manager to inspect it beforehand. Only after getting the building manager’s approval should you use a portable heater in your office. And even then, you should never leave a portable heater running unattended in your office.
#10) Improper Lifting
Don’t make the mistake of lifting objects in an awkward or unnatural manner. According to the BLS, improper lifting can cause a range of back injuries, including strains, sprains, and herniated discs. If you’re guilty of lifting objects the wrong way, you may experience these or other types of back injuries.
Most office workers, of course, don’t have laborious jobs that require an extensive amount of physical activity. Nonetheless, many are still required to lift and move objects on a regular basis. Whether it’s a box of files, a new shipment of inventory, or any other object, you should be conscious when lifting it. Rather than bending over, flex your knees so that your spine maintains its natural alignment while lowering yourself to the floor. Once you’ve grabbed the object, you can extend and lock your knees to raise yourself off the floor. You’ll probably feel your leg muscles burn when lifting objects in this manner, which is a good thing because it means your legs are doing all the work rather than your back.
#11) Blocked Emergency Exits
Never block emergency exits in your office. OSHA explains that most workplaces in the United States must have at least two “exit routes” for employees and other occupants to leave in the event of an emergency. If a fire, earthquake, or other emergency occurs, you and other occupants may need to use these emergency exits to escape to safety.
Emergency exits, however, are only useful if they are unobstructed. A blocked emergency exit creates a safety hazard for everyone in your office. It may only take a few seconds to clear the obstruction, but during an emergency, that nominal amount of time can mean the difference between life and death. And not only is it a safety hazard, but a blocked emergency exit could result in a fine. OSHA regularly fines for businesses for blocked emergency exits.
Finally, germs are a little-known health hazard in offices. Unless you work alone, you’ll probably be exposed to other people in your office. If one of your coworkers or employees is sick, he or she may unknowingly spread germs throughout your office. If you’re unlucky enough to pick up these germs, you may fall victim to the same illness.
You can minimize your risk of catching the flu, cold or other types of transmissible illnesses by regularly sanitizing surfaces in your office. Specifically, you should sanitize communal surfaces that are touched by multiple people. Doorknobs and handles, for instance, are a haven for germs. Other dirty communal surfaces include elevator buttons, appliance buttons, vending machine buttons, coffee pot handles, landline telephones.
Most offices are pretty safe – especially when compared to other workplaces. Nonetheless, they still have several health and safety hazards. From exposed electrical cords and loose rugs to insufficient lighting and more, they can lead to injury or illness when ignored.
President at Office Chairs Unlimited – I have been in the furniture industry for over 20 years, and I’m an expert (just ask me) on all things furniture. I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.