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Office Safety

By Bob Colichio

Maintaining a healthy office environment requires attention to chemical hazards, equipment and work station design, physical environment (temperature, humidity, light, noise, ventilation, and space), task design, psychological factors (personal interactions, work pace, job control) and sometimes, chemical or other environmental exposures.

A well-designed office allows each employee to work comfortably without needing to over-reach, sit or stand too long, or use awkward postures (correct ergonomic design). Sometimes, equipment or furniture changes are the best solution to allow employees to work comfortably. On other occasions, the equipment may be satisfactory but the task could be redesigned. For example, studies have shown that those working at computers have less discomfort with short, hourly breaks.

Situations in offices that can lead to injury or illness range from physical hazards (such as cords across walkways, leaving low drawers open, objects falling from overhead) to task-related (speed or repetition, duration, job control, etc.), environmental (chemical or biological sources) or design-related hazards (such as nonadjustable furniture or equipment). Job stress that results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities or resources of the worker may also result in illness.

As with any type of accident prevention program, office safety first requires that we all recognize the hazards that exist. In fact, it is a BNL requirement to assess the workplace annually, identifying hazards that may exist. However, this does not exclude the employee from his/her responsibilities. In addition to compliance, we must accept our obligation to family, co-workers, and employer. In doing so, we will recognize the necessity to help maintain a healthy and safe work environment.

Electrical hazards are often easy to spot, provided you are alert. Perhaps, the most common and probably the major electrical hazard in the office is the use of extension cords. When used without guidelines, they can quickly create all sorts of problems such as circuit overload and trip hazards. If you must use an extension cord, be sure that it is rated to handle the equipment youíre plugging in. Check with Facilities Services Electric shop if in doubt. Also, be sure that it is in good shape and that you donít create another kind of hazard by running the cord under a rug or through a high-traffic area.

A generalized list of safety reminders regarding electrical safety in the office area include:

  • Avoid overloading outlets. A 120V/20amp general-purpose outlet is generally connected to other receptacles each sharing the same circuit. The circuit is then de-rated, allowing for a maximum load of 18 amps. Donít forget! Amperage varies depending on the particular appliance used. Some appliances, because of voltage or amperage, require a dedicated circuit. Plugging additional equipment into a dedicated circuit may result in overload. Remember! When in doubt Ė Consult with your Building Manager or ES&H Coordinator.
  • Check for worn or frayed cords and have them replaced immediately. Never attempt to tape or splice a defective cord!
  • Never place cords near heat or water.
  • Never use electrical equipment when your hands are wet.
  • Report any potential electrical problems.

A classic tripping hazard in an office is the open file drawer. It sounds so simple, but it happens, please keep drawers closed. Another common tripping hazard is loose or torn carpet. When you see these conditions, report them to your supervisor or building maintenance person. Chairs can be dangerous as well. Be especially careful if you use a chair on wheels. Sitting too far forward can be just as dangerous as leaning too far back.

Back injuries are very common and costly for both management and victim. Slip trip and falls are responsible for a large number of workplace back related injuries, but they also come from improper lifting. Remember to lift with your legs, not the back and donít try to lift more than you can safely handle. Always bend at the knees, not the back.

Keep in mind that good housekeeping can do a lot to keep the office safe. This means, if you drop it - pick it up! If you use it Ė put it back! Good housekeeping prevents aisles, stairwells, and hallways from getting cluttered. The result? Good housekeeping can lessen the chance of a fire and falls that may result in personal injury.

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Last Modified: May 18, 2009
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DOE, Office of Science One of ten national laboratories overseen and primarily funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies and national security. Brookhaven Lab also builds and operates major scientific facilities available to university, industry and government researchers. Brookhaven is operated and managed for DOE's Office of Science by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited-liability company founded by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York on behalf of Stony Brook University, the largest academic user of Laboratory facilities, and Battelle, a nonprofit, applied science and technology organization.

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