The average office isn’t as safe as many people like to think. If you take the time to look, you start to notice a lot of hazards you never noticed before.
In Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Workers’ Comp Minefield for Technology Businesses, we described how carpal tunnel syndrome can be a worrisome condition for tech office workers and their employers. However, it’s not the only work-related injury. An injury, and a subsequent Workers’ Compensation claim, could result from any number of possible office dangers.
Humans are bipedal, top-heavy (and often clumsy) creatures, so it’s no surprise that falls are one of the leading causes of workplace injuries across all professions, according to the CDC. Gravity can strike anywhere, at any time.
In the office, falls can be caused by:
- Slippery floors.
- Tripping over power cords or loose carpeting.
- Standing on chairs or unstable platforms to reach something higher.
Avoid work-related falls: Clean up spills on the floor as soon as you notice them. Use a stepladder to reach something overhead, not a chair. Remove or report trip hazards and obstacles.
Strain from Lifting
Office jobs aren’t without occasional manual labor. From time to time, somebody has to move stacks of copying paper, desks and furniture, computer towers and giant monitors, and heavy packages arriving from vendors or clients.
Improperly lifting or carrying these objects is a quick way to injure your back, your knees, or your shoulders. Even small lifting loads can present a hazard if you’re not careful.
Avoid work-related lifting strain: The Albert Einstein College of Medicine recommends this technique for lifting:
- Squat toward the floor and use your legs to straighten, not your back.
- Allow your back to stay in a straight position.
- Use your entire hand to pick up the object and hold it close to your body. Refrain from twisting.
- To set something down, again use your legs for strength, not your back.
Colliding With or Getting Caught in Objects
There’s plenty of opportunity for workers in an office to be hurt by inanimate objects:
- Doors, drawers, and desk corners are ubiquitous, but also a prime cause of cuts, sprains, and bruises.
- Shelving units and filing units can fall or tip contents onto unsuspecting employees.
- Copy machines routinely jam and require fragile fingers to pry loose paper from the machinery.
The long and short of it? Every item can conceivably be a hazard. That’s not to say you should be paranoid; just be careful.
Avoid work-related injuries from objects: This mostly comes down to common sense, but as an employer, you can practice good office planning to minimize risks. Clear walkways of objects. Make sure shelves and cabinets are secure and in easy reach. Keep doorways accessible and free of obstacles.
In some states, workers can make Workers’ Comp claims for stress-related reasons. These claims are, understandably, not as easy to collect benefits on as obvious physiological injuries, but they can still be a valid course of action for an employee injured in the workplace.
David M. Reiss, M.D.,
psychiatrist and owner of private practice
explains the breakdown of these stress claims based on his experience in the state of California:
- Stress or depression as a secondary cause of a physical workplace injury: about 60 percent of claims.
- Stress claims resulting from exposure to workplace violence or trauma: about 10 to 15 percent of claims, with certain professions having higher claims rates.
- Claims related to allegations of harassment or mistreatment (e.g., sexual harassment, racial discrimination, etc.): about 10 to 15 percent.
- Claims related to general workplace “stresses” (e.g., work overload, interpersonal conflicts that aren’t quite harassment, basic job dissatisfaction or burnout, etc.): about 10 to 15 percent. (Note: most of these are not compensable under current law and fewer are being filed, but some are and cost about $10,000 to process but then get denied).
Avoid work-related stress claims: Reiss recommends implementing an effective employee assistance program “so that people at risk for depression after injury can be diverted into good mental health care ASAP.”
He also suggests businesses identify chronic complainers, or those they suspect are looking for a claim, and place them in positions of less risk.