I often find myself (arrogantly) believing that because I work in a non-threatening office setting, I’m impervious to workplace safety hazards. I look around the typical office and I see non-threatening fluorescent lighting, drab carpets, innocent office chairs and complacent computers. It’s not like I’m risking my life walking up on tall buildings or working with menacing machines. How can there be any safety hazards lurking in here, right? What am I gonna do, spill hot coffee on my pants? Get a computer virus? Krikey! The horror!
But then I remember that just because I don’t see office safety hazards, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Life is so weirdly unpredictable that any small thing can be an office safety hazard, and of course, it strikes at a time when we’re vulnerable. So while I’m not at risk of breathing in incredibly toxic chemicals while removing hazardous materials, or at risk of getting my arm turned into ground meat by an industrial machine (people with dangerous jobs- you’re the real MVP) our office jobs do pose some safety risks. For those of us who work in an office, a good attitude about office safety should still exist in our company culture, and we’re going to start right now by eliminating some of the hidden safety risks that are lurking in your office.
1. Your outlets are probably overloaded.
According to Safety and Health magazine, the leading cause of office fires are overloaded outlets . This can be hard to avoid because most of the technology we rely on for our jobs requires an electrical outlet. ESFI suggests you take these measures to avoid this:
- Even when using a surge protector, make sure the electrical load is not too much for the circuit.
- Avoid overloading outlets with too many appliances. Never plug in more than one high-wattage appliance at a time.
- Unplug appliances when not in use to save energy and minimize the risk of shock and fire.
- Inspect electrical cords once a month to ensure they are not frayed, cracked or otherwise damaged.
- Do not run electrical cords through high-traffic areas, under carpets or across doorways.
- Consider having a licensed electrician install additional outlets where needed, rather than relying on extension cords and power strips.
- Ensure all electrical equipment is certified by a nationally recognized laboratory and read all manufacturers’ instructions carefully. 
2. All those boxes…yeah, they gotta go.
So many offices are guilty of leaving boxes around, even just until the end of the day when we break them down for the recycling dumpster. And some offices are so heinous, they have literally stack and stacks of boxes with junk that needs to be consolidated and stored somewhere but no one has done it yet. Safety and Health states that if you are going to have boxes in your office, make sure they DO NOT block any exit path . In case of a fire and everyone heads for the exits, anything blocking them poses as an obstruction and a tripping hazard. Also, boxes should not be stacked more than 18 inches high . If they are, they’ll reduce the sprinklers effectiveness on putting out a fire. Then you’ll really wish you hadn’t ignored those boxes when your laptop is a melted heap on top of your charred desk. You don’t need any sort of special skill to break down boxes, so even if you’re an accountant or a salesman, just take the initiative to consolidate stuff and break down boxes for the safety of your coworkers. I know it’s not your job, and I know that it should be done already. But we all know you get bored sometimes so you wander over to Facebook or Pinterest or Amazon (not me, though, EVER…). Instead, take a quick minute to be a safety advocate, you could be saving your own life.
3. For the love of god, stop standing on chairs. Especially rolling or spinning ones.
I know this may seem laughable now, but when you’re trying to get that projector to work and you consider stepping up on a chair (I picture teachers doing this the most) to “fix it real quick” and you fall, you won’t be laughing (your students might). This is going to shock you, but I’m totally guilty of this. I’ve stepped up on a chair to reach something or try and fix something before. While I was never dare-devilish enough to use a rolling or spinning chair, I’ve undoubtedly have almost fallen trying to accomplish something while standing on a chair. Bottom line, don’t do it. Additionally, don’t step up on a table or the counter to reach something on the top shelf (unless it’s top shelf liquor, heh heh….just kidding, still get a step ladder). I know a chair is usually right there to quickly step up on, but every office should have a sturdy step ladder for such instances. Take the time to fetch a stepladder, or have a coworker retrieve one for you. They’re more stable, and allow for you to have more stable balance. Additionally, never step higher than indicated by the step ladder. It only takes 7 pounds to break a collar bone, how much do you weigh? Just sayin’.
4. Clean the germiest place in your office. Nope, it’s not the toilet.
According to Safety and Health Magazine, studies show 400 times more germs are present on a desktop than on the average toilet seat .
- Keep your keyboard and mouse clean, especially if you typically eat lunch at your desk.
- Keep some hand sanitizer on your desk will also help stop the spread of office germs, and will keep you safe from that pesky office “bug” that goes around.
- If you have an illness, stay home! It can spread unbelievably quickly when working in close proximity with coworkers or have shared spaces such as meeting rooms, staff lounges, etc. A lot of your coworkers probably have kids and some illnesses can be deadly to certain kids. Don’t be “that person” who got everyone sick, be responsible and stay home.
- Don’t keep dirty dishes on your desk. You’ve had your coffee, go clean that mug (speaking to myself on this one).
- Empty your trash often, especially if you throw food wrappers, etc. away in it.
5. I’m going to sound like my mother when I say this…don’t slouch.
Sitting incorrectly at a desk for long periods of time can be terrible on your body. WebMD states that some causes of musculoskeletal disorders are postural strain, repetitive movements, overuse, and prolonged immobilization . Which, are basically all the ingredients of an office job. It’s important to know the in’s and out’s of office ergonomics so that you can prevent long term damage caused by your sedentary office job. Luckily for you, we have some free resources right here on our blog. Download ’em, use ’em, and encourage your coworkers to do the same. These little changes can help preserve your body from muscle, back and joint damage. I know, aren’t you lucky you have us?
6. You have beautiful eyes…ight. You have beautiful eyesight. Preserve it!
Safety & Health also reports that the fluorescent lights in office buildings often are too bright for optimal vision. According to the American Optometric Association, light that is at about half-normal office levels is preferred . Bring it up to your manager or supervisor if you think it’s too bright in your office. They likely have been through ergonomics training in the past, and know that you’re probably right. Removing a couple bulbs can help soften the lighting a little (but get a damn step-stool to do it!). Ideally, you’d want to be using lighting from lamps, but if that isn’t achievable then light dimmers or a half-lit room will help too. Additionally, keep the brightness down on your computer monitor. Computer eye strain is a thing. Giving your eyes a rest and allowing them to focus on things at varying distances can help reduce strain and fatigue. OSHA recommends workers take a 10-minute break for every hour spent on the computer. These breaks can include working on tasks that require your eyes to focus on objects at a further range .
7. Falling for it!
Sorry for all the dad humor, but I’m just trying to keep you engaged in what I’m saying. Safety and Health (my number one source here, obviously) states that falls are the most common source of injury in an office. You can also lump slips and trips in this genre, as well as…topple over, tumble over, keel over, fall down/over, go head over heels, go headlong, collapse, take a spill, pitch forward, stumble, etc. The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety recommends these measure for prevention:
- Report and clean up spills and leaks.
- Keep aisles and exits clear of items.
- Consider installing mirrors and warning signs to help with blind spots.
- Replace worn, ripped or damage flooring.
- Consider installing anti-slip flooring in areas that can’t always be cleaned.
- Use drip pans and guards 
In addition, provide mats, platforms, false floors or “other dry standing places” where useful, according to OSHA. Every workplace should be free of projecting nails, splinters, holes and loose boards .
8. Be vigilant
I usually end my posts with something that seems like an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many people need such reminders. We become so focused on our own lives, our own duties and tasks at work, that we walk right by potential safety hazards and ignore them, or simply don’t care. Look, you don’t have to care. I’m not going to force you to care about the boxes, clutter, or wires. But maybe I can encourage you to be proactive enough to take notice and acknowledge that they are safety concerns that should be addressed. That’s all. You don’t have to be up all night worrying about the safety hazards lurking around every corner in your office, and you don’t have to become the office safety manager and heckle your coworkers. Just be aware of the menial things in your office that could harm you and the people you work with. Because even though they may not notice or care, to me (and hopefully to yourself), you’re a hero! *swoon*
There’s a ton more! Can you think of any? Let us know in the comments.
 “11 Tips for Effective Workplace Housekeeping.” Safety and Health. Safety and Health Magazine, 1 July 2015. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.
 “Musculoskeletal Pain Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.
 “Safety Hazards in an Office Setting.” Safety and Health. Safety and Health Magazine, 21 Feb. 2008. Web. 07 Oct. 2016.