Chapter 14   Office Safety

Issue Date: November 1, 2006 Issue Number: 3

Requirement Abstract

A. Introduction

B. Responsibility

C. Housekeeping

D. Fire Safety

E. User of Electrical Equipment and Machines

F. Movement in the Office

G. Lifting and Carrying

H. Storage and Filing

I. Reaching for Higher Places

J. Cuts by Sharp Objects

K. Bums and Scalds

L. Use of Chemicals

M. Proper Working Postures

N. Special Precautions for Working with VDTs

Appendix 14A Workstation Exercises


A. Introduction

Traditionally an office environment is viewed as non-hazardous. However, injuries do occur in offices, some of them may cause significant sufferings and loss of work time.

Safety precautions set forth in this chapter should be observed in order to prevent injuries and health problems commonly associated with working in the office setting.

B. Responsibility

The overall responsibility for safety in the workplace rests with the Department Head with the cooperation and support of the Departmental Safety Officer, office manager, and supervisors. A safe working environment contributes positively to office morale and productivity.

C. Housekeeping

One of the most significant contributions to safety in the workplace is good housekeeping practices. Good housekeeping means careful planning and establishment of workplace layout, combined with continued vigilance, maintenance and cleanliness. On the other hand, poor housekeeping is the root cause of most accidents in the office, such as fire, slipping, tripping and falling, etc.

To avoid collisions, trips and slips, all internal thoroughfares and circulation routes should be clearly signed, outlined, free from obstructions, surface defects and litter. Proper attention should be given to the following:

D. Fire Safety

Precautions set forth under Chapter 3 Section 1 and Chapter 6 of this manual should also be observed where applicable. The following are some of the specific fire safety precautions to be observed in the office:

E. Use of Electrical Equipment and Machines

The misuse of electrical equipment can lead to a wide variety of potential hazards, including slips and trips over trailing cables, ill-placed floor sockets, and fans; cuts and lacerations by dangerous machine parts. In more serious cases, electric shocks and burns can also result from faulty installations and damaged electrical parts. The following precautions should be observed :

F. Movement in the Office

Many accidents in the office occur simply when people are moving around. These are normally the result of an unsafe environment, unsafe personal factors, or both. The following are some recommended precautions :

G. Lifting and Carrying

Back injuries can be caused by improper lifting and carrying things in the office. There are simple lifting rules which can prevent injury and which are found in  Chapter 5, Section 3 of this manual on "Material Handling". Additional information can also be obtained from this online safety training module on "Back Care Basics".

H. Storage and Filing

This is a major activity in the office. The following precautions shall be observed :

I. Reaching for High Places

Proper ladders, or steps should be used for reaching high places. The use of chairs (especially swivel chairs on castors), boxes, drawers or other make-shift objects can result in serious falls and must be prohibited.

J. Cuts by Sharp Objects

Sharp objects such as pencils, ball point pens, letter openers, scissors, razor blades, etc. can cause serious injury. These items must be properly placed inside drawers. When they are put inside a pen holder, the sharp ends must not be allowed to point upwards. Pins should not be placed casually on the desk, but should be properly contained.

K. Burns and Scalds

This kind of injury can happen when handling hot drinks and hot food, especially in the pantry. The temperature of certain parts of some office equipment and machines (e.g. printer head, some parts of photocopying machines, etc.) is high enough to cause burns.

L. Use of Chemicals

The wide range of equipment being used, and activities being carried out in an office setting today have greatly extended the number of chemicals used daily in cleaning, lubricating, printing, developing, copying, toning and other activities. Many of these chemicals are irritant to skin, eyes and mucous membranes and may cause drowsiness, or intoxication. Some even present fire risks. Staff using these chemicals should be fully aware of their hazards. Manufacturer’s instructions for use must be explicitly followed.

More information on chemical safety can be found in Chapter 8 of this manual.

M. Working Postures

Office jobs usually involve long periods of sitting, writing, reading, operating computers, etc. Improper working postures create various physical problems such as neck and back pains and other musculoskeletal problems etc. These types of health problems are commonly associated with office sedentary workers.

The following guidelines should help to reduce these problems :

See Appendix 14A to this chapter for exercises for office workers.

N. Problems and Precautions for Working with Computers

Working with computers has become a major part of office works. Besides the problems associated with prolonged sitting as described above, other potential health problems have been identified among computer users, such as eye strain and injuries of the muscles, tendons and nerves of the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck and back. Injuries of this sort are often called "repetitive stress injuries" (RSI).

I. Legal Requirement

To protect the safety and health of employees who need to use computers and other display screen equipment at work for prolonged periods of time, a regulation entitled "Occupational Safety and Health (Display Screen Equipment) Regulation" was enacted by the Hong Kong SAR Government and has become fully in force in April 2003. This regulation applies to the operations of the University. Details of the regulation are explained in this webpage. 

 

II. Eye Strain Problems

Visual problems such as eyestrain and irritation are among the most frequently reported complaints by computer operators. These visual symptoms can result from improper lighting, glare from the screen, poor positioning of the screen itself, or copy material that is difficult to read. These problems usually can be corrected by adjusting the physical and environmental setting where the computer users work. The following guidelines for work station layout can help in reducing eye strain problems:

a. Workstations and lighting should be arranged so as to avoid direct and reflected glare in the field of sight, from the display screen, or surrounding surfaces.
b. The screen should be properly adjusted to obtain a readable and stable image. The contrast on the screen should also be adjusted to a comfortable level.
c. Background illumination for computer operation should be lower than that for general office work since a high illumination level will promote glare and reduce the contrast and visibility of the screen image. It is suggested that the illumination level for screen-based work should be reduced to 500 lux or less.
d. To prevent visual overload caused by alternate light and dark areas, the difference in illuminance between the display screen, horizontal work surface, and surrounding areas should be minimized.
e. The display screen should be placed directly in front of the operator, at a height that is slightly below eye-level and about 500 mm away from the operator.
f. The source document (if any) should be placed next to the screen. The document distance from the operator should be the same as that for the screen so that the operator does not have to change focus frequently between the two surfaces which can aggravate the eyestrain problem.

Additional information can be obtained from the online training module on "Setting up and working at a proper computer workstation".

Also see Appendix 14A to this chapter for eye exercises for office workers.

III. Fatigue and Musculoskeletal Problems

Work performed at computers may require sitting still for considerable time and usually involves frequent movements of the eyes, head, arms, and fingers which may result in fatigue.

Computer users are also subject to a potential risk of developing various musculoskeletal and nerve disorders. Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is one commonly recognized cumulative trauma disorder among computer users caused by repetitive wrist-hand movement and exertion.

To eliminate or reduce these problems, the following should be observed:

a. Proper seating should be arranged as described above.
b. Document holders should be used to allow the operator to position and view material without straining the eyes, neck, shoulder and back muscles.
c. To alleviate the problem of CTS, the arms of the operator should be parallel to the floor when operating the keyboard. Wrist and forearm support will be very helpful for prolonged operation.
d. Exercise breaks.

Additional information can be obtained from the online training module on "Setting up and working at a proper computer workstation".

Also see Appendix 14A for exercises for office workers.