Thoughts of safety training usually bring to mind jobs in construction, warehousing, or the electrical power industry. Would you be surprised to learn that the average office environment even before the COVID-19 pandemic exposes workers to hazards that result in serious injury or even death?
Common Office Workplace Hazards
Back injuries are a common office workplace hazard. Managers should ensure that workers have an ergonomic workstation so they can maintain a neutral posture, where the head is centered over the neck and shoulders. Desks and chairs should be at the proper height for seated work. If a worker’s feet don’t touch the floor, provide footrests. Encourage your workers to take regular breaks to get up and stretch, bend, and walk.
If your staff works on the phone all day long, provide them with headsets and encourage them to avoid neck, ear, and back pain by using the headset for frequent or prolonged phone use.
In winter, workers must safely navigate across slippery parking lots to enter the workplace. Employers should do their part to eliminate snow and ice hazards. Encourage workers to shuffle their feet, taking tiny, slow steps without lifting their feet. This ensures they maintain contact with the ground. Remind workers to wear sensible footwear for the conditions and wear backpacks to keep their hands free to balance if they start to slip.
Manage the use of electrical cords. Not only are they slip, trip, and fall hazards, they’re potential fire hazards if used inappropriately. Ensure all electrical cords are intact—not cracked or frayed. Don’t allow electrical cords to run through doorways. Avoid covering cords with carpet. Fasten them along baseboards and walls with approved devices, such as cord channels. Never staple electrical cords in place. Encourage workers to use common sense in maintaining clear aisles, to keep work areas tidy, and generally to be careful at work.
Accidental lacerations are also common in an office environment. While not usually life-threatening, these lacerations—which range from paper cuts to punctures and slices from cutting tools—are painful. They can cause workers to lose the full function of their fingers or hands. If the laceration gets infected, a simple cut becomes a serious injury. Do some research and find the safest tools for your workers to use any time they need a blade. Encourage the use of finger guards when filing or working with papers.
Everyone should be well versed in office emergency procedures. This will ensure they’ll react quickly in unsafe scenarios. Think about situations such as fire, medical emergencies, storm damage, or workplace violence.
Create a comprehensive safety program that taps into your workers’ knowledge to create a safer workplace. Workers are much closer to hazards than any manager. By encouraging their participation in identifying hazards, assessing risks, and deciding on the best hazard control measures, you’ll ensure that your safety program creates a safer workplace and that you have buy-in from everyone.
How to Create a Strong Office Safety Program
The best safety programs are supported by top-down management leadership. It’s also critical to solicit worker participation in hazard identification, elimination, or control. A strong safety program involves education and training focused on the specifics of your workplace. Continuous review, evaluation, and improvement of your safety program will keep it relevant to new risks your workers face. Here are some tips to create a strong, effective safety program:
1. Start with a hazard assessment of your work environment. What conditions have the potential to injure your workers? If your workers participate in this part of the process, your safety program will be more comprehensive.
2. Now assess the risk your workers face from these hazards. How often are they exposed to each type of hazard?
3. Use OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls to decide on appropriate, effective, and economically feasible control measures.Again, this is a great place to get worker participation, because workers easily identify missing controls or procedures. They’ll make valid, realistic change recommendations.
4. Select and document your control measures. Routinely monitor these measures for effectiveness and be flexible, making changes as necessary.
5. Train your workers on how to operate safely in their work environment. Address how to operate equipment safely, how to avoid risks, how to care for their individual safety, as well as that of their co-workers, and how to report safety issues to management.
Keeping It Interesting
Let’s face it. Safety talks are sometimes dry as unbuttered toast. Keep your workers engaged in a program that’s designed to send them all home safe at the end of their shift by shaking things up. Instead of just talking about safely, give live demonstrations on how to use equipment safely. Show videos that communicate in fresh ways about office safety issues or have everyone participate in a safety exercise or drill. Using a mix of demos, statistical data, and visual aids helps stimulate interest.
It’s critical that you document all safety training you conduct. If an injury occurs on the job, you’ll be able to prove that proper training took place. Although OSHA standards aren’t consistent when it comes to safety training frequency, the generally accepted practice is to conduct safety training at least annually—more frequently is even better.
While having a safety talk immediately following an accident helps your workers see how easily their actions result in accidents, prevention should be your primary focus. If you take the time to train your workers in the safest way to work, you’re making an investment that will pay dividends in terms of fewer injuries, improved morale, and lower insurance premium costs. Whether you’re training workers on how to avoid pinch points on your new copier machine or providing helpful tips on how to avoid paper cuts, you’re providing the tools that will keep them safer during their daily 9-to-5.
TJ Scimone founded Slice, Inc. in 2008. His priority is design, innovation, and safety in cutting tools. The result is a unique line of utility knives and precision tools featuring blades with Slice’s proprietary finger-friendly grind.