When we think about workplace safety, the first thing that usually comes to mind is factory workers wearing steel-toed boots. But office workers have a few issues they need to think about if they want to stay safe on the job.
Ergonomics was a big buzzword a few years ago, when repetitive strain injuries started making headlines. Basically, it is a science that involves fitting the workplace to a worker’s physical capabilities, to avoid muscle and skeletal injuries.
Typing for long periods of time can result in pain, weakness and conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrists. Practicing correct posture can help prevent these types of injuries, along with back problems and other health hazards.
You may be familiar with this advice, but a lot of office workers don’t really think about it until an injury occurs. For example, when lifting heavy objects such as a box of paper off the floor, avoid this:
Sorry, Peter. He should have done this instead:
Some employees wear wrist braces and back braces to keep from hurting themselves. If your work requires you to lift and/or do repetitive motions, ask your boss about assistive devices to help you. Tennis elbow may sound like a joke, but it hurts, as I can tell you from personal experience. So be careful when lifting, pulling and pushing objects, machines, or even heavy files.
My pet subject, personal safety, is too vast to write about here. I already covered what to do when a shooter enters your workplace, although that is a very rare scenario. More typically, you might encounter the following.
Theft of personal property
We don’t like to think our coworkers or vendors could steal from us, but sometimes the temptation is too great. Thieves may also pose as vendors or customers in need of a bathroom, etc. to gain access to private areas.
- Lock your valuables in a secure drawer or locker, or in your car out of sight.
- Keep doors closed and locked, especially at night or in sensitive areas.
- Some workplaces have check-in procedures for visitors. Follow them!
- Don’t leave valuables lying around for sticky fingers to take. Leave your toys and credit cards, etc., at home.
- Be discreet about vacations. If someone gets your address from your personal items or correspondence, you may come back to find your house has been robbed. So don’t post online or talk too much at work about where you’re going, or your timeline.
Crime in the workplace and after hours
You don’t have to be female to become a crime victim. Use your head and pay attention.
- If you’re working late, make sure doors are secure so people can’t just randomly wander in.
- When walking to your car, keep your head up and be aware of your surroundings. Get your key out and be ready to open the door. Check in and around the vehicle before entering and exiting.
- Someone following you, or just going the same way? Don’t be shy—turn and look. If a bad guy knows you’ve seen him, this can sometimes deter him.
Natural disasters and fires
In areas prone to earthquakes, tornadoes, and other dangerous weather or natural events, your workplace should have a plan. There should also be one in place for fires. Study these and make sure you know where to go in the event of an emergency.
If your company has regular fire or tornado drills, please take them seriously! Treat them as actual emergencies. Your HR or safety department doesn’t do this to inconvenience you. They do it to keep you alive.
Be careful when handling electrical cords, appliances, coffeemakers, and other office machines. You don’t want to get shocked or start a fire.
It’s scary to think about, but any of us can become ill or injured at work badly enough to need medical assistance. Make sure you check your handbook and get with your boss on how to handle an incident.
Some companies, especially industrial ones, have at least a couple of employees with first aid certification. Know who these people are and where to reach them in case of emergency. Or consider becoming certified yourself.
If you must call 911, here are some things to remember:
- You may feel scared or upset, but try to stay calm. Take a deep breath.
- Give the location of the emergency. It may not be where you’re calling from.
- Answer the operator’s questions as best you can. Follow the directions and advice the 911 operator gives you.
- Make sure someone goes to the door to meet the ambulance and direct emergency personnel to the right area.
Most safety rules involve common sense and practice. They won’t help you if you aren’t familiar with them. It’s hard to think about unpleasant things, but a few minutes of preparation and regular review will help keep you safe and healthy at work.
- More stress injuries as e-record use grows (futurity.org)
- Measuring Safety Culture in the Workplace (themarlincompany.com)
- Home Office Safety Tips for the Work at Home Entrepreneur (powerhomebiz.com)
- Unboxed: Stand-Up Desks Gaining Favor in the Workplace (nytimes.com)