Office-Related Illnesses and Injuries

A. Introduction
B. Falls

C. Strains And Overexertion
     Safe Lifting Steps
     Lifting From A Seated Position
     Ergonomic Solutions To Back Breaking Tasks
D. Striking Or Being Struck By Objects
E. Getting Caught In Or Between Objects
F. Material Storage
G. Workstation Ergonomics
     Arranging Your Workstation To Fit You
     Applying Good Work Practices

H. Indoor Air Quality And Ventilation
I.  Lighting
J. Noise
K. Office Electrical Safety
     
Acceptable Electrical Uses
     Ungrounded Equipment
     Overloaded Outlets
     Unsafe/Non-Approved Equipment
     Defective, Frayed, Or Improperly Installed Cords
     Improper Placement Of Cords
     Electrical Cords Across Walkways And Work Areas
     Live Parts Unguarded
     Pulling Of Plugs To Shut Off Power
     Working On "Live Equipment"
     Blocking Electrical Panel Doors
L. Office Fire Prevention Strategies

A. Introduction

Changes have occurred in the American workplace as a result of the new office technology and automation of office equipment. As with all new technology, these changes bring with it a set of health and safety concerns. Even the nature of office work itself has produced a whole host of stress-related symptoms and musculoskeletal strains. The leading types of disabling accidents that occur within the office are the result of falls, strains and overexertion, falling objects, striking against objects, and being caught in or between objects.

B. Falls

Falls are the most common office accident, accounting for the greatest number of disabling injuries. The disabling injury rate of falls among office workers is 2 to 2.5 times higher than the rate for non-office employees. A fall occurs when you lose your balance and footing. Once of the most common causes of office falls is tripping over an open desk or file drawer. Bending while seated in an unstable chair and tripping over electrical cords or wires are other common hazards. Office falls are frequently caused by using a chair or stack of boxes in place of a ladder and by slipping on wet floors. Loose carpeting, objects stored in halls or walkways, and inadequate lighting are other hazards that invite accidental falls. Fortunately, all of these fall hazards are preventable. The following checklist can help stop a fall before it happens.

If you find yourself heading for a fall, remember - roll, don't reach. By letting your body crumple and roll, you are more likely to absorb the impact and momentum of a fall without injury. Reaching an arm or leg out to break your fall may result in a broken limb instead.

C. Strains And Overexertion

Although a typical office job may not involve lifting large or especially heavy objects, it's important to follow the principles of safe lifting. Small, light loads (i.e., stacks of files, boxes of computer paper, books) can wreak havoc on your back, neck, and shoulders if you use your body incorrectly when you lift them. Backs are especially vulnerable; most back injuries result from improper lifting. Before you pick up a carton or load, ask yourself these questions:

If you feel that the lift is beyond your ability, contact your supervisor or ask another employee to assist you.

Safe Lifting Steps

  • Take a balanced stance, feet placed shoulder-width apart. When lifting something from the floor, squat close to the load.

  • Keep your back in its neutral or straight position. Tuck in you chin so your head and neck continue the straight back line.

  • Grip the object with your whole hand, rather than only with your fingers. Draw the object close to you, holding your elbows close to your body to keep the load and your body weight centered.

  • Lift by straightening your legs. Let your leg muscles, not your back muscles, do the work. Tighten your stomach muscles to help support your back. Maintain your neutral back position as you lift.
  • Never twist when lifting. When you must turn with a load, turn your whole body, feet first.

  • Never carry a load that blocks your vision.

  • To set something down, use the same body mechanics designed for lifting.


Lifting From A Seated Position

Bending from a seated position and coming back up places tremendous strain on your back. Also, your chair could be unstable and slip out from under you. Instead, stand and move your chair out of the way. Squat and stand whenever you have to retrieve something from the floor.

Ergonomic Solutions To Back Breaking Tasks

D. Striking Or Being Struck By Objects

Striking against objects is another cause of office injuries. Incidents of this type include:

Pay attention to where you are walking at all times, properly store materials in your work area and never carry objects that prevent you from seeing ahead of you. Objects striking employees occur as a result of:

E. Getting Caught In Or Between Objects

The last category of leading disabling incidents occurs as a result of office workers who get their fingers or articles of clothing caught in or between objects. Office workers may be injured as a result of:

While working on office equipment, concentrate on what you are doing.

F. Material Storage

Office materials that are improperly stored can lead to objects falling on workers, poor visibility, and create a fire hazard. A good housekeeping program will reduce or eliminate hazards associated with improper storage of materials. Examples of improper storage include - disorderly piling, piling materials too high, and obstructing doors, aisles, fire exits and fire-fighting equipment. The following are good storage practices:

G. Workstation Ergonomics

Ergonomics means fitting the workplace to the workers by modifying or redesigning the job, workstation, tool or environment. Workstation design can have a big impact on office workers health and well-being. There are a multitude of discomforts which can result from ergonomically incorrect computer workstation setups. The most common complaints relate to the neck, shoulders, and back. Others concern the arms and hands and occasionally the eyes. For example, poor chairs and/or bad postures can cause lower back strain; or a chair that is too high can cause circulation loss in legs and feet.

Certain common characteristics of VDT jobs have been identified and associated with increased risk of musculoskeletal problems. These include:

Arranging Your Workstation To Fit You

Applying Good Work Practices

The way a task is performed and the workstation environment it is performed in can influence the risk of injury and general work productivity. Good technique can make a job easy and safe to accomplish:

H. Indoor Air Quality And Ventilation

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an increasingly important issue in the work environment. The study of indoor air quality and pollutant levels within office environments is a complex problem. The complexity of studying and measuring the quality of office environments arises from various factors including:

In order to determine if a possible relationship between any adverse health symptoms and indoor air quality exist, the Health and Safety Section, HSS, will conduct an indoor air quality survey. This survey will consist of an evaluation of potential sources of pollutants, a measurement program that involves selecting appropriate instrumentation and designing the monitoring effort, and, finally, an interpretation of the data gathered. In many situations, the cause of the inadequate indoor air quality can be recognized and certain mitigation measures suggested and/or implemented. To request an indoor air quality investigation, contact the Health and Safety Section, EHSO at 6-SAFE. (312 996-7233).

I. Lighting

Lighting is one of the most important factors affecting personal comfort on the job. The best lighting system is one in which the light level is geared to the task, where brightness ratios are controlled (no intensely bright or dark areas in one field of vision) and where ceilings, walls, and floors are carefully chosen to minimize glare. Glare is defined as a harsh, uncomfortable bright light that shines directly in the eyes. Glare may be either direct, coming from lights or sunshine, or indirect, coming from a reflected surface.

Different tasks require different levels of lighting. Areas in which intricate work is performed, for example, require greater illumination than warehouses. Lighting needs vary from time to time and person to person as well. One approach is to use adjustable task lighting that can provide needed illumination without increasing general lighting.

Vision problems are one of the leading sources of complaints among office workers. Poor office lighting can cause eye strain and irritation, fatigue, double vision, watering and reddening of the eyelids, and a decrease in the power of focus and visual acuity. Headaches as well as neck and back pains may occur as a result of workers straining to see small or detailed items. Poor lighting in the workplace is also associated with an increase in accidents. Direct and reflected glare and shadows as well as delayed eye adaptation when moving from bright surroundings into dark ones (or vice versa) may prevent an employee from seeing tripping and other similar hazards.

J. Noise

Noise can be defined very simply as unwanted sound. Office workers are subjected to many noise sources including video display terminals, high-speed printers, telephones, fax machines, and human voices. Noise can produce tension and stress as well as damage to hearing at high noise levels. For noise levels in offices, the most common effects are interference with speech communication, annoyance, and distraction from mental activities. The annoying effect of noise can decrease performance or increase errors in some task situations. If the tasks require a great deal of mental concentration, noise can be detrimental to performance.

Government standards have set limits for exposure to noise to prevent hearing loss in employees. The level of noise one can safely be exposed to is dependent on the intensity of the noise as well as the duration of exposure. In an office setting OSHA noise standards are rarely approached or exceeded. However, problems could arise in areas with a high concentration of noisy machines, such as high-speed printers or Xerox machines.

When employees are subjected to sound levels exceeding OSHA standards, feasible administrative or engineering controls must be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels, personal protective equipment must be provided and used to reduce sound levels.

For many of the annoying sounds in the office environment, the following measures are useful for reducing the level of noise or its effects:

K. Office Electrical Safety

Electrical power is essential to the operations of a modern automated office. Office equipment that uses electricity is potentially hazardous and can cause death, serious shock, or burn injuries if improperly used or maintained. Electricity normally travels through this equipment through electrical conductors such as wires, switches, motors, circuit boards, and lights. Most metals and moist skin readily conduct electricity because they offer very little electrical resistance. Substances that offer higher resistance to the flow of electricity include dry wood, porcelain, or pottery, which can be used to prevent the flow of electrical current. If a part of the body comes in contact with the electrical circuit, a shock can occur. The electrical current will enter the body at one point and leave at another.

The passage of electricity through the body can cause great pain, burns, destruction of tissue, nerves, and muscles and even death. Factors influencing the effects of electrical shock include the type of current, voltage, resistance, amperage, pathway through body, and the duration of contact. The longer the current flows through the body, the more serious the injury. Injuries are less severe when the current does not pass through or near nerve centers and vital organs. Electrical accidents usually occur as a result of faulty or defective equipment, unsafe installation, or misuse of equipment on the part of office workers.

When electrical current passes through the body, macroshock can occur. There are five major causes of death by electrical shock in the macroshock situation:

Acceptable Electrical Uses

To protect employees, students, and visitors against electrical accidents, the University follows these guidelines:

Refer to the University of Illinois Hospital, Hospital Management Policy and Procedure, 01-08-01, Use of Personal electrical Equipment, Space Heaters, and Extension cords for specific hospital and clinic requirements

Ungrounded Equipment

Grounding is a method of protecting employees from electric shock. By grounding an electrical system, a low-resistance path to earth through a ground connection is intentionally created. When properly done, this path offers sufficiently low resistance and has sufficient current-carrying capacity to prevent the buildup of hazardous voltages. Most fixed equipment such as large, stationary machines must be grounded. Cord and plug connected equipment must be grounded if it is located in hazardous or wet locations, if operated at more than 150 volts to ground, or if it is of a certain type of equipment (such as refrigerators and air conditioners). Smaller office equipment, such as typewriters and coffee pots, would generally not fall into these categories and therefore would not have to be grounded. However much of the newer office equipment is manufactured with grounded plugs as a precaution (three prong plugs). In such cases, the equipment should be used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. In any case, never remove the third (grounding) prong from any three-prong piece of equipment.

Overloaded Outlets

Insufficient or overloading of electrical outlets should be avoided. A sufficient number of outlets will eliminate the need for extension cords. Overloading electrical circuits and extension cords can result in a fire. Floor mounted outlets should be carefully placed to prevent tripping hazards.

Unsafe/Non-Approved Equipment

The use of poorly maintained or unsafe, poor quality, non-approved (by national testing laboratory) coffee makers, radios, lamps, etc. (often provided by or used by employees) should be discarded. Such appliances can develop electrical shorts creating fire and/or shock hazards. Equipment and cords should be inspected regularly, and a qualified individual should make repairs.

Defective, Frayed Or Improperly Installed Cords

When the outer jacket of a cord is damaged, the cord may no longer be water-resistant. The insulation can absorb moisture, which may then result in a short circuit or excessive current leakage to ground. If wires are exposed, they may cause a shock to a worker who contacts them. These cords should be replaced. Electric cords should be examined on a routine basis for fraying and exposed wiring.

Improper Placement Of Cords

A cord should not be pulled or dragged over nails, hooks, or other sharp objects that may cause cuts in the insulation. In addition, cords should never be placed on radiators, steam pipes, walls, and windows. Particular attention should be placed on connections behind furniture, since files and bookcases may be pushed tightly against electric outlets, severely bending the cord at the plug.

Electrical Cords Across Walkways And Work Areas

An adequate number of outlet sockets should be provided. Extension cords should only be used in situations where fixed wiring is not feasible. However, if it is necessary to use an extension cord, never run it across walkways or aisles due to the potential tripping hazard. If you must run a cord across a walkway, either tape it down or purchase a cord runner.

Live Parts Unguarded

Wall receptacles should be designed and installed so that no current-carrying parts will be exposed, and outlet plates should be kept tight to eliminate the possibility of shock.

Pulling Of Plugs To Shut Off Power

Switches to turn on and off equipment should be provided, either in the equipment or in the cords, so that it is not necessary to pull the plugs to shut off the power. To remove a plug from an outlet, take a firm grip on and pull the plug itself. Never pull a plug out by the cord.

Working On "Live Equipment"

Disconnect electrical machines before cleaning, adjusting, or applying flammable solutions. If a guard is removed to clean or repair parts, replace it before testing the equipment and returning the machine to service.

Blocking Electrical Panel Doors

If an electrical malfunction should occur, the panel door, and anything else in front of the door will become very hot. Electrical panel doors should always be kept closed, to prevent "electrical flashover" in the event of an electrical malfunction.

L. Office Fire Prevention Strategies

The best time to think about fire safety is before a fire starts. Learn the location of fire escape routes and how to activate the fire alarm. Participate in practice fire drills on a regular basis. Become familiar with stairway exits - elevators may not function during a fire, or may expose passengers to heat, gas and smoke.

Through a program of scheduled inspections, unsafe conditions can be recognized and corrected before they lead to serious injuries. Take a few moments each day to walk through your work area. Look for items previously pointed out, such as objects protruding into walkways, file cabinets that are weighted toward the top or frayed electrical cords. Advise personnel in the area of the hazards and set about correcting them.