Recognizing hidden dangers: 25 steps to a safer office
Vision problemsAlthough looking at a computer monitor cannot damage your eyes, spending a large portion of your workday at the computer can cause eyestrain, according to Chicago-based Prevent Blindness America. Eyes can become dry and irritated, and workers may begin having trouble focusing. A few work area adjustments can help alleviate some of these issues.
Dim the lights and use task lamps
Florescent lights in office buildings often are too bright for optimal vision. According to the American Optometric Association, light that is at about half-normal office levels is preferred. This can be achieved by removing some bulbs from overhead fixtures. If more light is needed for a particular task, the British Columbia Public Service Employee Relations Commission recommends providing individual task lamps rather than increasing overall lighting. The commission cautions that lightbulbs in task lamps should be fully recessed to avoid the creation of a bright spot in the worker’s line of vision.
Correctly position monitors
Prevent Blindness America recommends workers place their computer monitors slightly below eye level and 20-26 inches from their eyes. Screens that can tilt or swivel are especially beneficial. “Your eyes’ resting position is a few degrees below the horizon when you’re looking straight ahead,” Paquette said.
Minimize screen glare
The American Optometric Association points to screen glare as a major cause of eyestrain in the office. To minimize strain, avoid positioning monitors opposite open windows, or be sure to always close shades or blinds. A glare reduction filter also can be used.
Wear the right glasses
Workers should tell their eye doctor if they spend a large portion of the day working on the computer, the association recommends. The doctor can check the efficiency of vision at 20-30 inches – the typical distance a computer monitor should be placed. Glasses are available for computer use that allow the wearer to see the full monitor without having to excessively strain the neck.
Increase font size on computer
Small font sizes on the computer can strain both your vision and your neck, as workers tend to pull the head forward to view smaller print. A simple adjustment to the font size on the computer screen can eliminate the need for this. “In many software programs, you can use the CTRL-scroll up or down or CTRL+ or CTRL- to increase or reduce the size of the page you are looking at,” Paquette said.
Take a break
Giving your eyes a rest and allowing them to focus on things at varying distances can help reduce strain and fatigue. OSHA recommends workers take a 10-minute break for every hour spent on the computer. These breaks can include working on tasks that require your eyes to focus on objects at a further range.
Local fire departments responded to approximately 3,830 office fires each year between 2004 and 2008, according to the Quincy, MA-based National Fire Protection Association. On average, these fires caused four civilian deaths and 37 civilian injuries annually. Some routine inspections around the office can help reduce the likelihood of fire causing such devastation.
Maintain cords in good repair
According to the Office of Compliance, damaged and ungrounded power cords pose a serious fire hazard and violate safety codes. Cords should be inspected regularly for wear and taken out of service if they are frayed or have exposed wire. Further, cords should never be used if the third prong has been damaged or removed. Make sure cords are not overloading outlets. The most common causes of fires started by extension cords are improper use and overloading. Extension cords should be approved by a certifying laboratory such as Underwriters Laboratories, and only used temporarily to connect one device at a time.
Inspect space heaters
If employees use space heaters, verify the devices are approved for commercial use and have a switch that automatically shuts off the heater if the heater is tipped over, the Office of Compliance suggests. Further, make sure space heaters are not powered through an extension cord or placed near combustible materials such as paper.
Never block fire sprinklers
Furniture and tall stacks of materials can block the range of fire sprinklers, reducing their effectiveness in the event of an emergency. Objects should never be placed higher than 18 inches below sprinkler heads to allow a full range of coverage, according to the Office of Compliance.
Do not block escape routes or prop open fire doors
Items never should be stored along an emergency exit route. These paths should remain free of clutter, according to OSHA. Fire doors should not be held open by unapproved means (such as with a garbage can or chair), as this creates a significant fire hazard.
In addition to employee training and improved equipment, certain administrative controls can aid hazard recognition and the elimination of potentially dangerous situations.
Periodically walking around the office can help with hazard recognition and maintenance of ergonomic task design. Turina recommended employers conduct an ergonomics screen of every workstation at least once a year. “Employee complaints are invaluable in the process, but yearly reassessments can help to ensure that a good fit is maintained between employee and workstation,” he said.
Recognizing the symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders can alert employees of the need to make an ergonomics alteration to their workstation. But workers need to know what those warning signs are. “Lots of musculoskeletal injuries developing from poor ergonomics start out asymptomatically and can become quite severe by the time an employee starts to experience symptoms,” Turina said. Pay attention to any pain, fatigue, numbness or weakness, as these may be signs of an ergonomics problem and the start of a more serious MSD.
Talk to employees about their concerns
Simply asking workers how they are feeling can go a long way toward recognizing hazards. “Employers need to take advantage of the cases where employees are experiencing symptoms like discomfort and fatigue early on, when quick, inexpensive interventions can usually solve the problem,” Turina said. “Ignoring these early warning signs can lead to employee suffering and astronomical cost in some cases.”
Establish employee reporting systems
Establishing an employee reporting system can be the best way for organizations to get a handle on potential hazards before they cause injury. Consider creating an anonymous reporting process that encourages workers to come forward with their concerns. “Research shows that early intervention yields the most cost-efficient results in all areas,” Paquette said.