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Safety Update: They May Not Wear Hard Hats, But Office Workers Also Face Risks

by Chris Kilbourne

Source: Safety Daily Advisor

Because office areas are not the most hazardous parts of most industrial workplaces, they may not be a safety priority for you and safety probably isn’t an issue much on the minds of office workers, either. As a result, minor hazards go undetected, and those small problems can become costly injuries.

What are the major hazards for office workers?

The North Carolina Department of Labor’s Guide to Office Safety and Health confirms that falling is the most common office accident. Falls account for the highest number of disabling injuries and the highest percentage of lost workdays due to such injuries.

People fall while getting into and up from chairs, leaning back and tilting chairs, standing on chairs, and putting their feet up on the desk.

Other office safety hazards include:

  • Poor housekeeping
  • Wet surfaces
  • Improperly placed cords
  • Obstructed walkways
  • Open file drawers
  • Stairs
  • Ergonomic risks (e.g., head and neck strains from improper desk/computer setup, stiffness from too much sitting, discomfort from cradling the phone between head and shoulder)
  • Overexertion from lifting
  • Poor lighting
  • Struck by injuries (from doors, desks, carts, etc.)
  • Shocks from faulty electrical equipment
  • Poor air quality and bad ventilation
  • Sedentary lifestyle, which can lead to health problems


Unum, a large disability insurer, is an employer that takes office safety seriously. The workforce includes underwriters, customer service specialists, nurses and doctors, and a large number of administrative and support personnel.

“Our biggest risk is repetitive motion injuries,” says Chuck Spencer, corporate safety manager, charged with protecting the 10,000 employees who work at Unum’s Portland, Maine headquarters.

Within a month of starting work at Unum, every new employee sits down with an ergonomic specialist for a complete ergonomic assessment.

“We build the workstation around them with a proper seat and work surface that includes any assistive technology they might need, including various types of keyboards and ‘mice’.” A physician or physical therapist might get involved if medical accommodations are required.

Sit-Stand Desks

Providing the right equipment isn’t enough, however. The real value comes when employees alter their habits and behaviors.

Unum is making that easier by providing employees with sit-stand desks. These adjustable workstations encourage workers to move around as they work rather than remain in a static seated posture.

“There’s an electronic work surface on a base, and the whole surface raises or lowers very easily,” says Spencer. A digital display is preset to the height of the individual worker. With the push of a button, the setup goes from sitting to standing mode.

Workers who choose to stand are provided with a two-step stool. Placing a foot on the stool can relieve the potential discomfort of standing for long periods. Sitting versus standing is a personal choice, but Spencer says that the more time office workers spend on their feet, the more stamina they will develop.