The standard office environment might not seem like it would cause injuries at first glance. After a closer inspection of the furniture, tools, and postures that people have in such an environment, however, it is easy to see how certain injuries could develop frequently. One of the most popular issues to look at for office-related injuries is the ergonomics of each station, but injuries related to posture or improperly fitted equipment don’t top the list.
Here are the most common office injuries that are seen today so they can be avoided and how to properly treat those injuries when they occur.
#1. Office Falls
Falls in the office are not only the most common accident that occur, but they also cause the most injuries. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that workers in an office environment may be up to 2.5x more likely to suffer an injury that disables them from a fall there than workers who don’t work in an office.
Common reasons for falls include open drawers, reaching for items in a chair that is unstable, and using chairs with wheels as a stool instead of a ladder. Wet floors and inadequate lighting are also considered to be contributing factors.
To prevent falls from occurring, it is important for workers to pay attention to where they are walking at all times. If a drawer is open, then it must be closed. Talk to workers about standing up to reach items instead of reaching for them. Clean up spills, post warning signs for when the floors are wet, and secure and trip hazards like cords or loose carpets.
And make sure a stepladder is on hand. Common sense isn’t always so common when work needs to be completed in a hurry.
Lifting injuries in the office are almost as prevalent as falls when it comes to an injury. Even something as simple as picking up a stack of files from a cabinet can be enough to lead to a muscle strain, sprain, or even tear. Workers who are used to sitting in an office chair that are suddenly asked to lift 100 pounds of office supplies are also likely to be injured simply because their muscles aren’t accustomed to that level of strain during the day.
The reason why lifting injuries occur is because people lift with their backs and not with their legs. The lower back is a pivot joint and thousands of pounds of pressure are placed on it when a lift occurs. Encourage workers to squat down to pick items up instead of leaning over.
Allowing the back to stay in a straight position is also an easy way to prevent this common office injury. Make sure the entire hand is used to pick something up instead of just the fingers. Hold heavy loads as close to the body as possible and always set items down using the legs in a reverse of the process used to pick items up.
#3. Flying Objects
Yes. Even flying objects in the office environment actually cause more overall injuries to workers than poor ergonomics. Workers can be struck by items, bump into stationary objects, or even get pinned between objects in the office. The most common issue is bumping into a desk or an office chair, but a dropped coffee mug, a filing cabinet that pulls out or tips over, or that guy at the back flinging rubber bands at people as a prank are all risk factors.
Some of the preventions for this type of injury must rely on common sense. If a door is closing, don’t leave your fingers in the door. Don’t lean over a paper shredder and let a tie dangle over it. Tell the guy snapping rubber bands to knock it off. Move deliberately through the office space, encourage people to not be in a rush, and this issue will typically resolve itself over time. Accidents are always going to happen, but realizing that flying objects are the third most common injury in the office should be a wake-up call.
The last item in the category of common office injuries is ergonomics. Part of the reason for this is that many workers may not even report their injuries. Aches, strains, and fatigue are the three most common issues seen from ergonomically inadequate equipment and these are issues that many workers just take care of on their own.
There are some easy ways to prevent these injuries from occurring. The best option is to make sure that the computer is at eye level for the worker. If someone has to look down at their computer screen, then their neck is eventually going to hurt from the repetitive muscle use. Elbows should be at a 90 degree angle to the desk and chairs should be adjustable so that a worker can be at the proper height for any task.
Document holders can help to less strain as well if they are placed at eye level next to the computer screen.
One of the least known issues of workplace ergonomics is the glare from the computer screen. The focus is often on the back, the neck, or the joints, but the eyes can become injured when looking at screen glare for 8 hours per day. Consider adjusting the interior lighting to reduce glare or install blockers on the screen to eliminate the issue. In a pinch, computer glasses that have a light yellow tint can help as well.
What Are the Common Injuries That Are Suffered?
Vision, hearing and musculoskeletal issues are the three most common types of workplace injuries that occur. Although they may happen from falls or flying objects, they can also happen through poor ergonomics. You can’t prevent an accident, but you can prevent ergonomic injuries with some simple proactive measures.
What are musculoskeletal injuries? This just refers to the support system of the body. It includes the muscles, of course, but also the supportive structures that the muscles move. Joints, bones, tendons, and ligaments are also commonly injured. Carpal tunnel syndrome is the most talked about office-related ergonomics injury, but bursitis and muscle strains in the neck and upper back are also very common.
How can injuries be prevented? In a word: rest. Workers need to be allowed to rest when they begin to feel fatigued so that they can begin the recovery process. Having opportunities for stretching exercises can also be highly beneficial. Many workers won’t want to rest because they have tunnel vision on a project, but don’t be tempted by the higher levels of short-term productivity. It isn’t worth the risk.
What about the electronics? Interestingly enough, the design of some computers is actually going to heighten the risk of an injury occurring. Workers on a laptop that are using a touchpad have a higher risk of suffering from finger or risk injuries than those who use a mouse. The height on all items should be adjustable and the electronics shouldn’t occupy a majority of the desk. People need to have space to move and if their electronics don’t allow this, then an injury may result.
The position of the feet matter more than you think. The final consideration in workplace injury prevention should be how a worker’s feet are positioned. The feet of the worker should be able to be planted flatly on the ground when they are sitting. This helps to provide the back with the support it needs. If the feet cannot reach the floor, then a foot rest can help to provide better ergonomics and potentially prevent an injury.
How can injuries be treated? Many workplace injuries just need a little time, ice, and rest to help people recover. Bruises, strains, and joint aches can all benefit from a day or two off from the normal routine. It might hurt short-term productivity in some cases, but it is better than some of the other alternatives. Any injury that does not receive the rest it needs may not properly heal or could get worse, making it difficult for the worker to eventually work.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, for example, can create long-term damage that affects how the fingers feel and operate on the affected hand. Some workers may be able to continue working through the use of braces and compression, but eventually surgery is required to relieve the strain that is placed on the nerve. That can be a costly worker’s comp issue, especially if the recovery time becomes prolonged in some way.
Most common office injuries can be prevented by using common sense. Sometimes, however, the tools or the environment that are around workers every day can also cause injuries. Use this guide to examine your office environment, take steps to prevent injuries when needed, and you’ll wind up being more productive day after day.