Springfield, MO

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Coffee Break

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by Clarissa A. French

It's a jungle in there.

Most people don't see the office as a hard-hat area, but there are plenty of opportunities for workplace injury in the office setting.

A tour of the World Wide Web provides numerous safety tips from such sources as the Peacock Group, a specialty insurance group focused on the pest-control industry, and the Department of Natural Resources' safety site.

Based on that information, and years of experience in the office setting, here is SBJ's lighthearted-but-serious take on office safety:

Have a nice trip. See you next fall. Open file drawers, loose or curled floor mats, wastebaskets, torn carpets and electric cords all pose tripping hazards. Walkways should be kept clear. You may want to look at adding or relocating electrical outlets if the existing setup results in cords being strung across aisles or walkways.

Particularly when it comes to electrical cords, falling isn't the worst result of tripping. Pulling the plug out of the wall as you fall and taking down the whole office network with you, is. The biggest danger in this situation is not the fall itself, so much as being pelted to death with 3 1/2-inch computer disks by irate co-workers.

For the sake of employee safety, and the safety of your computer data, watch those wires.

Tote that barge, lift that bale ... carefully. Injuries from improper lifting, or attempting to lift an object beyond the person's strength, are common in the office. Preventive action includes education on proper lifting techniques and availability of proper equipment when needed, such as a hand truck.

If something is too heavy for you to lift yourself, get help. We're not all Arnold Schwarzenegger, and a back injury can put you out of action for a long time.

Is your filing cabinet out to get you? In addition to the tripping hazard of an open file drawer, file drawers are great things to bonk your shins or knees on, or to pinch a finger in.

Also, remember that the hallway to the fire exit is an escape route, not a storage space. Filing cabinets should not be placed so as to block exits.

As many of us with overloaded file drawers can testify, filing cabinets can be vicious pieces of furniture that may turn on you unexpectedly, particularly if you open more than one drawer at a time.

Where filing cabinets are not anchored to the floor, pulling out a couple of heavy drawers can cause the whole cabinet to tip over, pinning the hapless office worker underneath.

Recommended precautions include putting the heaviest load in the lower drawers and opening one drawer at a time. Anchoring the file cabinet to the floor is another good way to circumvent this hazard.

Reach for the stars ... but use a ladder. Too often a worker will try to reach something up high by standing on an office chair, stool or box instead of a ladder.

Indeed, some of us have, at some point in our careers, witnessed the terror of a co-worker hanging 10 on a rolling office chair, arms pinwheeling, a new light bulb clutched in one hand, a burned-out light bulb in the other.

Shouting "Shoot the curl, Bob," is not especially helpful in this kind of situation (though it does make for a better story later). More useful to Bob, and his employer, is letting him know where the ladder is stored and informing him of office safety policy.

Electrifying equipment. Electric cords should be examined regularly and replaced if they show any sign of damage to avoid possible electric shock.

Make sure equipment is turned off and unplugged before attempting to repair it. Of course you don't have to do this. You could poke around inside the copy machine while it's plugged in, but you could probably save time by just sticking a fork in the electrical socket.

Another thing to beware of is overloading the office's electrical outlets. If your outlet looks like the octopus exhibit at Sea World, it is overloaded.

Cubicle of terror. Cubicles are great for providing a private area to work, but make sure the partitions are securely attached and will not topple onto the workers who occupy them. Also, be sure the cubicle dweller has enough storage space for supplies and files.

If the worker has nowhere to put necessary supplies and files, those items may end up in the aisle or walkway, creating a tripping hazard. If shelving is used for this storage, make sure the shelves are properly installed and well-secured.

The paper trail. It sounds silly, but be careful when handling paper. A paper cut is a little thing, but it can turn nasty if not disinfected.

Also, be careful when using a paper cutter. A paper cutter is just a machete with a board and a ruler attached. Keep your fingers clear of the cutting edge and make sure the blade is secured when the paper cutter is not in use.

And if you shred documents, make sure to keep ties, long hair and anything else attached to your person away from the document feed. While getting caught in a shredder has formed the basis of a number of entertaining comedy sketches and movie scenes, the reality is not nearly so amusing.

In general, office safety is a matter of being aware of the hazards, setting appropriate policies according to your risks, and, most importantly, educating employees on the proper, safe procedures for working in the office.


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