As a responsible employer, you will want to make your contribution to employee wellbeing. After all, it’s in your interests to have staff members enjoying optimal health and wellbeing for maximum productivity in the office. Furthermore, in this age of regulation and compliance, it’s actually a requirement for employers to look after workplace safety and health. With this in mind, in this post we examine the whole issue of ergonomics in the workplace and office safety. We look at the basics of what’s involved and what you need to be aware of as an employer. The office portal or employee intranet is a great place to locate this sort of information so that all employees and managers are up to speed on their obligations and where to get help and assistance.
What Is Workplace Ergonomics?
To begin with let’s be clear about what exactly ergonomics is. Basically, it is the scientific study of people and their working conditions and its aim is to improve effectiveness. The goal is to provide a comfortable working environment for maximum productivity and efficiency.
You may think that ergonomics and office safety are relatively new ideas in the workplace. Think again. Check out the retro film below from the 1950s which humorously highlights some key safety messages.
Why Ergonomics And Office Safety Is Important
All businesses have a duty to ensure that employees and anyone else who may be directly affected by their business activities remain safe at all times. The 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act still provides the cornerstone of legislative requirements governing office safety. However, there is a plethora of federal and state regulations and guidance covering a range of issues and specific industries. For the most up-to-date information check out the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’S) website.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrate just how important occupational safety and health is. They show that in the US there were a total of 4,679 fatal work injuries in 2014. In addition, there were 2.9 million workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private employers in 2015. There were a further 752,000 injuries and illnesses reported by public sector employees. All of these cases required time off work for the employee and also increased workers’ compensation and healthcare costs for the employer.
So for any company that is looking to meet their statutory obligations in relation to safety and health, reduce their direct healthcare and compensation costs as well as improving productivity, it’s essential that you adopt a comprehensive approach to ergonomics and office safety.
Employers that are seen by their workforce to be proactive about these issues will also benefit from improved levels of employee engagement. Employees will appreciate the efforts of employers that are genuine in their commitment to workplace safety and health issues. And employees that are actively engaged tend to be more enthused and productive in their daily work.
Simply put, a better safety culture will help to ensure that your company is complying with national and state legislation and guidelines as well as protecting your most valuable asset: your employees.
Now that we have an appreciation of why ergonomics and office safety are important, let’s turn our attention to what that means in practice. In this discussion, we will primarily be concentrating on office workers. There is a whole raft of requirements relating to specific trades and industries. For more detailed information the OSHA’s website is a good starting point as well as industry-specific representative bodies.
Ten Tips For Ergonomic Office Work Stations
- Use good posture. Try not to slouch. Instead sit up straight with your feet on the floor. Move your chair as close to your work station as possible to avoid leaning or reaching.
- One chair does not fit everyone so make sure that you find a chair that suits you. Ideally, choose one with a five-point base and it’s important that your lumber area is adequately supported.
- Your feet should not be dangling when you are seated. If your feet don’t comfortably reach the floor or there is pressure on the backs of your legs, use a footrest or lower the keyboard and chair.
- When using the keyboard make sure that the weight of your arms is supported at all times to avoid putting unnecessary stress on your arms and neck. Place the keyboard directly in front of the computer screen so that you do not have to turn your head and neck.
- The computer screen should be placed directly in front of you and the top of the monitor should be no higher than your eye level.
- Keep the keyboard and mouse close to you to avoid over-reaching which could place a strain on your shoulders and arms.
- Avoid placing the monitor near a window or a bright background as this could cause glare on the screen leading to eye strain.
- In addition, eye strain can be caused by having the monitor too close to you. Arm’s length is the perfect distance.
- It’s important to rest your eyes from time to time. If possible do another activity that doesn’t require you to look at the screen. If that’s not possible, then rest the eyes by looking at something in the distance over the other side of the office so that your eyes have a break.
- Program into your work schedule regular stretch breaks or alternative work tasks that mean you will not be spending prolonged periods of time sitting down.
Ergonomics is only half the story though. Just as important is the need to maintain a safe office environment by minimizing hazards and potential issues. Here is our checklist for promoting a safe and healthy office environment. Again, the employee portal is a great place to publicize this checklist as workplace safety and health is a responsibility of all of us.
Eliminate Potential Hazards Around The Office
Try to keep all files, drawers and cabinets clean, organized and closed to prevent any spills or tripping.
- Keep any heavy boxes or supplies on the floor or in lower drawers and make sure any items in cupboards are secure so that they don’t fall out once you open the door.
- Put any sharp objects such as cutting knives or paper cutters safely away after use.
- Make sure that the no smoking rules are obeyed and enforced.
- Try not to eat lunch at your desk or drink tea and coffee. Spills and crumbs can cause havoc with computer equipment.
- Walk rather than run around the office. And don’t try and read the agenda on your way to the meeting – make sure that you can see where you’re going.
- Clean up or fence off any spills or other obstacles on the floor.
- Be aware of all the emergency exits in your office and keep the access easy and clear.
- The office should be brightly lit both internally and externally. This includes stairwells and parking lots. And while you’re at it, why not install motion sensors to save energy.
- When using the stairs, keep a firm grip on the handrail and opt for the elevator if you’re carrying a heavy load.
- Fix any torn carpeting, loose floorboards or tiles to eliminate tripping hazards.
- Repair or replace any broken furniture or defective office equipment.
- Keep an eye out for any frayed or torn electrical cords or cables. Floors or walkways should be clear of cords so either coil them up or use a cover to keep them out of the way.
- Safety signs and exits should be clearly marked and easily seen.
- Avoid touching electrical switches or plugs with wet hands.
- Use flame-retardant office furnishings wherever possible and make sure any inflammable liquids or substances are clearly labeled and stored appropriately.
- Regularly service the office fire extinguishers and replace the batteries in smoke detectors.
- Ensure your office has a fire marshal and carry out fire drills on a regular basis, so staff know what to do in an emergency.
- Have evacuation plans and guidelines for other emergencies too such as earthquakes, floods, tornados – whatever you are likely to encounter in your area. And while you’re at it, it’s also a good idea to have plans in place for other types of emergency such as a power outage or a network failure.
- Appoint a Safety and Health Officer and keep a written record of all incidents or near misses.
Minimize The Potential for Health Issues
As an employer, you should be aware of any serious diseases or allergies amongst your employees and what to do in an emergency situation. In addition, make sure that you have a first aid kit to treat any minor injuries.
- As an employee, you should make your colleagues aware of any special needs and medical requirements you may have just in case of an emergency. For instance, let your team know if your peanut allergy means that you carry an EpiPen.
- Minimize the potential for headaches and fatigue by providing enough ventilation, muffling noise through the use of carpets, curtains and insulation, and blocking any potential sources of pollution or fumes. These could include outside traffic pollution or the exhausts from printing machines and photocopiers.
- Make sure that you drink plenty of water while you’re at work and try not to skip lunch either. It’s important that you eat and drink well to maintain optimum health and wellbeing.
- If your job is particularly sedentary, then be sure to take regular breaks. Have a stretch or a stroll around the office. Better still team up with a colleague for a regular lunchtime walk. The fresh air alone will do you the power of good.
- Limit machine fumes with ventilation or by isolating them away from work spaces. Keep a limit on noise levels by turning down the ringers on phones and any bleeping machines or equipment.
How To Perform Assessments
Ideally, an organization will utilize a qualified and fully trained occupational safety and health professional to undertake an assessment of workplace practices. These would include the following:
- Undertaking an audit of office safety and health to make sure there are no hazards and that staff members are aware of the requirements and their obligations.
- Assessing the organization’s policies and procedures in relation to the management of hazards and any issues that may cause injury and damage to property or the environment. And ensuring that these policies and procedures comply with relevant legislation and guidelines.
In small businesses, however, it’s not always possible to engage external help and often a staff member is given the safety and health portfolio to manage. There are a number of online resources that this staff member can use to assist with the task. The OSHA’s online hazard identification tool is a great starting point. Furthermore, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has a very useful office inspection checklist.
When it comes to ergonomic assessments, again ideally a qualified professional will carry out office assessments. Failing that there are a number of online tools that staff and managers can use to carry out their own assessments. Safety+Health magazine has a very helpful article with pictures that take you through the steps required in an ergonomics assessment of workers’ desks and chairs. And the OSHA has a computer workstation evaluation checklist.
The office intranet is a great central hub for all the assessment tools and information relating to ergonomics as well as occupational safety and health. Employee self-service means that staff members can locate information themselves and utilize the available tools and resources. This is particularly relevant in the context of remote workers who may well have to carry out their own assessment of the home office.
The intranet is also a great place to get staff members thinking and talking about these issues. Blogs and forums can be used to share best practice and insights across the organization. And FAQs can be used to highlight key information and staff responsibilities.
What’s more, online training available through the intranet can support the staff member who is performing the safety and health monitoring role.
And when it comes to demonstrating compliance to any safety and health inspectors, the ability to track training and check that all the relevant employees have accessed and downloaded the latest updates will be invaluable.
Make The Investment
Poor ergonomics and lax practices in relation to office safety is a false economy. Protecting your most valuable asset – your employees – is common sense. In addition, you’ll be protecting your business from unnecessary compensation and healthcare costs as well as safeguarding your precious reputation and brand.
If you would like more information on how an intranet can help your company meet its obligations in relation to ergonomics and occupational safety and health, c