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Office workers may not operate heavy machinery or spend hours exposed to inclement weather at their jobs. They may, however, be exposed to lighting that is inadequate to maintain healthy eyesight. They spend much of their time seated at workstations that, if not properly designed and adjusted, can cause long-term aches and pains. They may breathe in air that is unnatural, poorly circulated and contain harmful dusts or other toxins. These are just a few of the reasons why every office should have a health and safety program, including a policy outlining management's commitment to ensuring a safe work environment.
Office aches and pains
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) are injuries of the wrists, back, neck, shoulders and elbows. They can be caused by work that is too forceful or repetitive, and by fixed or awkward body positions held for extended periods, such as stretching to hold a document at one side while entering data on a keyboard. Common symptoms of WMSD are pain, joint stiffness, weak or aching muscles, redness and swelling, numbness and tingling, a burning sensation, and a general feeling of tiredness.
Every office health and safety program should cover ergonomics, the science of matching the job to the worker. The goal of an ergonomics program is to eliminate musculoskeletal and other disorders by considering all three key factors: the worker, the workstation and the tasks performed.
Office workers can experience poor vision, eyestrain, headaches and other symptoms caused by inadequate office lighting. Workers should be able to see properly without straining the eyes or body. Too little light, too much glare, flickering or poorly distributed light can cause discomfort, reduced productivity and may damage the worker's vision.
To avoid the physical, psychosocial and behavioural effects that workplace stress can have on a worker, consider the following characteristics of a more rewarding, less stressful job:
- The job should be reasonably demanding.
- Tasks should be varied.
- The worker should have opportunities to learn on the job and progress in his or her career.
- The worker should have some degree of decision-making authority, and feel socially supported and recognized as a valuable asset to the organization.
Indoor Air Quality
The chemical vapours, dusts, moulds or fungi that can be found in office air (from painting, emissions from new furnishings, poorly maintained ventilation systems, etc) can be hazardous to a worker's health. Dry, irritated eyes, nose, and throat, hypersensitivity and allergies, headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus problems and coughing and sneezing are symptoms linked to poor indoor air quality (IAQ). An office health and safety program should cover IAQ best practices, such as properly maintaining the building's heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems and isolating or eliminating sources of toxic emissions.
This article highlights the types of issues that your Office Health and Safety Program should address to ensure that your workers have the environment and tools they need to help them work safely and comfortably, and prevent injuries and illnesses in the office.
Office Health and Safety e-course
The Office Ergonomics Safety Guide
A 22-year-old worker in New Brunswick was checking a vertical cardboard bale compactor when he sustained a fatal head injury. He had put his head into the opening, probably to investigate a noise, when the hydraulic cylinder that held the ramming plate up in the air broke off at the joint. The plate slid down rapidly, and the worker's head was caught between the plate and the top of the bale chamber door.
An investigation found that repeated bending of the ram during compression of uneven piles of cardboard had caused fatigue at the joint where the cylinder rod connected to the pin. Excessive force on the connecting area led to a failure at the joint. The ram had become wedged sideways, on several previous occasions, and pried back into place with a metal rod.
The bale compactor did not meet legal safety criteria. The design of a compactor must meet the requirements of the ANSI Z245.51-2004 standard, "Equipment Technology and Operations for Waste and Recyclable Materials." Nor did it have a secondary safeguard that holds the plate in the event of a cylinder failure or hydraulic fluid leak.
Regular inspection of the ram and cylinder are necessary to detect signs of wear. The manufacturer must supply information on how to properly install, operate and maintain the units. Workers must be trained in how to properly use the compactors, and know to always keep any parts of their bodies out of the machine, except to enter it to remove a bale. There must be a means of blocking the plate so it won't fall on the workers while they are inside.
In two other incidents in New Brunswick, also involving waste compacting units, operators were crushed - one fatally - by a container being unloaded. In both cases, the trunnion bar on one side of the container escaped its holding bracket. Unsupported on one side, the container dropped to the ground, rotated on the fallen bar, and released the second bar. The container then swung freely and struck the side of the garbage truck.
In one case, the safety bars had not been engaged. In the case of the fatality, the safety bars were engaged, but there were no washers on the end of the trunnion bars.
The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) of New Brunswick recommends that safety bars be locked in place, and that the container trunnion bar have appropriate washers or other safety devices to prevent the bar from escaping the holding brackets during unloading. Regular maintenance and inspection of the equipment, operator training on how to use the unit according to the operator's manual, and inspection of container contents to verify the distribution of waste and large objects are also recommended.
Read the full alerts from WHSCC:
Trash Compactor Fatality
Workers Crushed While Unloading Waste Container
Let's face it: our posteriors are permanently parked. We sit while we travel. We sit for meals. We sit through meetings and presentations, and when the day is done we sit in front of the TV. For those of us who also sit in an office all day, every work day, having a chair that's appropriate to our body dimensions and the tasks we perform is essential to our health and well-being.
Finding the right chair is not as easy as it sounds. Buying a chair just because it's labeled "ergonomic" can be a mistake. "Ergonomics" is the science of matching the job to the worker. A chair only becomes ergonomic when it specifically suits a worker's size, workstation, and work tasks.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) recommends finding several chairs that fit the user's body dimensions, and then allowing the worker to try out each chair, preferably at the workplace while performing his or her daily work tasks.
While an individual's body dimensions and personal preference certainly come into play, a chair should meet certain basic requirements. The seat height should be adjustable. Check that it can be adjusted to the height recommended for the worker who will be using it. The backrest should be adjustable, both vertically and in the frontward and backward direction. The seat should be deep enough to accommodate a tall worker or shallow enough for a short worker. The chair should have a five-point base for stability.
Consider whether the height of the armrests is adjustable, and whether the distance between the armrests is suitable to the worker's body size. Also, depending on the job, consider the type of flooring and the work environment; some workers prefer chairs with casters or wheels while others prefer a stationary chair.
Besides a suitable chair, an ergonomic workstation depends on other factors, which may include a footrest, a properly adjusted work surface, a document holder and task lighting. For anyone who seems permanently parked at their jobs, however, the chair can make all the difference between a painful office experience and a pleasant, healthy one.
OSH Answers on Ergonomic Chairs
The Office Ergonomics Safety Guide
Like many good ideas, this one originated in a conversation. At a health and safety conference in 2001, a conversation between Paul Faupel, former president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), UK, Eddie Greer, former president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), and Jim Allan, former president of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), planted the seed for what would become a new organization.
They wanted to address a gap in the global community of safety and health related disciplines and form an organization that would provide their members access to a global network of the most up-to-date best practices, international contacts and networks necessary to operate effectively, and in a mutually supportive way.
In 2002, the International Network of Safety & Health Practitioner Organisations (INSHPO) was born. INSHPO is a not-for-profit organization formed to bridge communication gaps and promote best occupational safety and health practices throughout the world. Leaders of national occupational health and safety professional organizations around the world are invited to join.
"Occupational safety and health issues and concerns are not limited by national borders," says Gene Barfield, ASSE president. "Worldwide distribution of products and provision of services, migration of workers and the conduct of international corporate activities lead to the reality that almost all occupational safety and health professionals' efforts are international in scope."
"The INSHPO organization allows practitioner organizations from around the world a venue to promote, develop and access information pertinent to the profession of occupational safety and health, " Barfield added.
Longer term objectives of the INSHPO include gathering data from other countries on competence standards for occupational safety and health practitioners and providing that information to members.
Faupel, Greer and Allan, as well as Martin Ralph, Vice President of the Industrial Foundation for Accident Prevention (IFAP), Australia, were elected to the new executive council in July, 2004. In addition to ASSE, CSSE, IOSH and IFAP, other members of INSHPO include the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health Management (IOSHM), Mauritius, and the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA).
"The health and safety profession needs to be operating in this context to establish truly global standards of best practices in the drive to reduce the toll of death, injury, ill health and collateral losses associated with poor health and safety management," INSHPO President Faupel said.
Members have established a governance structure and bylaws which can be found on the INSHPO website, together with the details of current members. The structure and bylaws are based on models from other similar, international organizations such as the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) and the International Association of Labour Inspectors (IALI). INSHPO membership is open to generalist professional safety and health practitioner organizations throughout the world, but not to individual practitioners.
INSHPO website: www.inshpo.org
Electricity, a convenience that brings us computers, television and Christmas lights, can also be a hazardous, potentially deadly force. To help teach workers the basics of how to protect themselves from electrical hazards, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) introduces Electrical Hazards, one of its two recently released e-courses.
The course introduces the learner to the basics of electricity and electrical hazards at work and how to recognize them. Using power tools, extension cords or other powered equipment, working near electrical equipment or other installations, and working near power lines are among the hazardous situations covered.
Electrical Hazards will be helpful to managers, supervisors and workers who may encounter electrical hazards in the workplace but may not be formally qualified to work with electrical equipment. The course may also be of interest to health and safety committee members, facilities managers, and anyone needing general awareness of electrical safety. It is not suitable for workers who work directly with electrical equipment or installations, whose jobs require specific training and qualifications.
The course material applies to electrical safety in all workplaces including construction, manufacturing, utilities, retail, agricultural and office environments. Electrical Hazards takes about 60 minutes to complete.
Another e-course just released from CCOHS is Personal Protective Equipment: The Basics.
The course covers the basics of hard hats, safety glasses, earplugs and other PPE, and includes practical tips for how to use PPE safely. Participants will learn about foot, head, eye, face, hearing, hand and respiratory protection, as well as high-visibility clothing. The course teaches them which PPE applies to which hazards, how to select and fit PPE, and how to use, care for, inspect and maintain PPE. Participants will also gain an understanding of the legal requirements regarding PPE, and the limitations of PPE as a hazard control method.
Additional resources, links and printable lists are provided throughout the course. Quizzes after each section, and a final exam, help measure learning.
The course is not intended for emergency responders, hazmat teams, people who deal with biohazards, and others who use specialized PPE. The course content is best suited to workers, managers, supervisors and health and safety committee members working in an industrial setting, on construction or demolition sites, and in the forestry and mining industries.
Further information about these and other CCOHS e-courses:
Personal Protective Equipment: The Basics
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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