Working Well: Common Hazards in the Office Workplace

By Dana Rawl, MD, MPH

Even though we tend to minimize dangers in comfortable, environmentally controlled office settings, there are still hazards contributing to injury or illness. Recognizing and eliminating or mitigating these office hazards is a primary prevention goal to reduce workplace injury and illness. Three of the common causes for injury in the office setting are slips, trips and falls, ergonomic-related injuries, and eye strain.

Slips, trips and falls are the most common cause of injury in an office setting. Wet floors, uneven floors, exposed electrical cords or computer cables, loose rugs or cluttered areas contribute to most slips, trips and falls. Anticipate icy, snowy or wet weather by placing non-slip matting at door entrances and exits, treating outdoor walkways with ice-melting products or sand, and posting notices for potential hazards, such as washouts or curbs. Clean up spills immediately and use wet floor warning signs. Using skid- resistant carpet on otherwise slick flooring helps reduce falls. Do not stand on chairs, tables or any surfaces other than an appropriate step ladder to reach something at an elevated height. Maintain clutter-free walkways and offices to avoid trips over boxes or stacked files. Keep file drawers closed, and route computer cables and electrical cords out of walkways or rolling chairs. Consider corner mirrors to reduce collisions with other workers coming around a blind corner.

Ergonomic injuries are usually repetitive or positional injuries leading to musculoskeletal strains, tendon or nerve injuries. These injuries are prevalent in the office workplace as most workers are primarily seated during the day as they perform repetitive tasks. Understanding and implementing proper ergonomic design with training can reduce ergonomic-related injury. Adjustable workstations that accommodate body size variations of workers are key in fitting the workstation to the worker. Adjustable chairs with lumbar supports help maintain a neutral posture with both feet on the floor to reduce back fatigue and strain. Positioning of the mouse and keyboard to keep the elbows at a 90-degree angle with the wrists in neutral alignment with the forearms and hands helps reduce hand pain, fatigue and numbness.

Dr. Dana Rawl

Neck strain can be reduced by positioning the computer monitor slightly lower than eye level and by providing document holders to reduce repeated head and neck movement. Make sure the worker is familiar with how to adjust furniture correctly.

Eye strain is another frequent complaint in the office workplace. Long hours of computer use can contribute to eye strain. Taking a 10-minute break periodically to focus the eyes on more distance objects may help reduce eye strain. Headaches are common with eye strain. Florescent lights may be too bright for computer work and should be dimmed, or desk lamps may be more suitable. Glare from outside lighting should be reduced with window shades and/or computer glare screens, or the monitor should be positioned opposite windows to reduce eye strain. Monitors are optimum for viewing at 20 to 26 inches from the eyes and slightly below eye level. Avoid any squinting to see the computer screen. Change font size if needed and have your eyes examined for accurate vision correction by your eye doctor if necessary.

Reducing injuries and illnesses in the office setting involves an understanding and awareness of potential hazards on the part of supervisors, as well as an active program to provide education and training to employees on hazard recognition, prevention and intervention. Observations and monitoring of the worksite with an honest reporting system can lead to elimination or reduction in workplace hazards and, in turn, work-related injuries and illness.

Maurer, Roy. “Five Common Office Hazards to Prevent.” Society for Human Resource Management. Oct 29, 2013.
Claussen, Lauretta. “Recognizing Hidden Dangers: 25 Steps to a Safer Office.” Safety + Health. National Safety Council. June 1, 2011.

Lexington Medical Center’s Occupational Health has certified doctors focused on workplace wellness and specializing in occupational and environmental medicine. Read more articles like this one by visiting and clicking on Working Well Magazine.

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