When describing your office, chances are you don’t describe it as a death trap. However, overstuffed filing cabinets, wobbly chairs and jam-packed electrical outlets – to name just a few – can make for a treasure trove of veritable dangers.
Disabling workplace injuries and illnesses cost US businesses more than $58 billion annually, according to Liberty Mutual’s 2018 Workplace Safety Index. Overexertion is listed at the top hazard followed by falls.
So we know how much it’s costing us, but what constitutes a workplace hazard? We identify the top seven most common hazards in the workplace below:
Slips, Trips and Falls
Whether it’s a hazard in a walkway, like an errant cord or an edge of upturned carpet or not using the appropriate equipment to grab something out of reach, falls – whether from the ground or a great height – are extremely common in the workplace. Slips, trips and falls account for $21.7 billion in costs to businesses each year.
To mitigate the risk, there have a number of simple things you can do: be sure to keep walkways clear and carpet in good condition, as well as provide floor mats at entrances from the outside so that workers aren’t tracking in rain or snow and creating slick surfaces. For falls from great heights, make step stools and small ladders available in areas where employees frequently have to access items in high places or rearrange your storage so that heavily used items are closer to hand.
Letting it All Pile Up
Letting files, boxes, discarded products or any other workplace stuff accumulate in one spot is dangerous for a number of reasons. In addition to being an eyesore – because let’s face it, cleanliness is next to godliness, right? – it can give off the wrong impression in an office and make it hard for even those familiar with the office layout to navigate around. Further, letting boxes of paperwork pile up can be a HUGE fire risk, especially if it blocks the path to an exit and because really it’s just kindle! To remedy this, have a clear plan for what paperwork needs to be kept (for both business and legal functions), as well as effective places to store or properly discard products and other work items.
Playing Office Jenga
Following from letting it pile up, there are distinct problems associated with how you stack and store records and other items in your office. If you pile things high, you not only make it hard for people to access what they need to without bringing in special equipment but you also significantly increase the risk of it all coming down on someone and doing some serious harm. To address this risk, invest in storage solutions that make sense for your business – including considering going as paper-free as possible to really save space, lower costs and protect the environment.
Keeping it Vintage
Finding the perfect office chair is often times more complicated than finding the perfect office mate. It has to be sturdy, comfortable, and be able to support you correctly all day. However, there is an end date to your chair – and your desk, filing cabinets, the photocopier and just about every other piece of equipment you use on any given day. Indeed, all office equipment needs to be inspected regularly and anything found to be deficient (such a broken caster, a frayed electric cord, a wonky drawer) needs to be repaired or replaced.
Making it Stressful
Working in an office is certainly far less dangerous than working in a coal mine, but they do have something in common – a risk of repetitive strain injuries! Indeed, any job where you do the same motion over and over again – be it typing on a computer or operating equipment – carries a high risk and there’s a uniform solution: teach employees the proper ergonomics to complete the task and provide equipment to ensure optimum positioning is supported.
Dancing in the Dark
Good lighting, both inside and outside the office, is also extremely crucial for safety and employee health. On the most basic level, poor lighting can conceal safety hazards, but if you dig deeper, it can also contribute to eye strain and their resultant headaches. Eye experts recommend giving individual workers task lighting so that they can decide how much light is needed for themselves and the task at hand instead of increasing your overhead lighting. Good lighting indoors also improves mood and productivity. Outdoors, adequate lighting promotes safety and comfort when employees enter and exit the building while deterring criminal activity.
In the grand scheme of things, it may seem silly to have an emergency exit plan for employees, but not having a plan to get your employees safely out of the office can have deadly consequences. Sure, everyone knows how to get in and out of the building when they come and go at the start and end of the day, but if something awful were to occur, could they get to that exit or remember where an alternate door is? Do any employees need special help getting out of the building if an incident were to occur?
In addition to having exits that are clearly marked and easy to access, workers also need to know where to congregate once they’ve made it outside so someone can mark them as safe. Someone needs to be designated as the head counter and know how many total employees there are supposed to be. The simple solution is to practice – hosting a drill once or twice a year, just like a fire drill when you were in school, can keep you and your employees safe and calmer should an emergency occur.
Working with a safety manager can help your business develop an emergency plan as well as assess any risks your business may have.