Injury at work is a serious business. One hundred and forty two people were killed at work from 2014 – 2015 and 28.2 million workdays were lost the same year, due to injuries caused in the workplace or a work related illness. While these figures have been dropping, it’s estimated that these work related sick days can cost the UK economy up to £14 billion a year.
As work places go, an office isn’t anywhere near as dangerous an environment as a building site, an oil rig or a war zone, but it still has its fair share of hazards, which contribute to pushing up public liability insurance for UK businesses every year.
Here are the 5 most common office accidents and some tips on how to prevent them:
Falls are the most common cause of injury in any workplace, and the office is no exception. Slips, trips and falls accounted for over 35% of all employee injuries during 2013, and made up over half of the major injuries reported. They are also responsible for more disabling accidents than any other in the work place.
Falls are easily avoidable through employer and employee diligence, and by adopting some common-sense practices. Employees should feel comfortable reporting and attending to any potential hazards within the office environment, including unstable flooring, damaged walkways, loose carpet fittings and poorly maintained stairways. Equally, employers and employees should make a habit of acting quickly to clear away loose cables, unattended boxes and spillages/leaks around the workplace. Open drawers are another surprisingly common cause of serious injury, especially low down filing draws that can easily be tripped over when left open or unattended
2. LIFTING/CARRYING THINGS
Richard Bacon jokes in The Thick of It that the BBC sent him on a training course to learn how to carry a cup of coffee. However, carrying things are a real concern to UK businesses because around 2 million working days are lost every year due to handling injuries and falls. This makes correct carrying procedures a pretty important part of health and safety, even in environments where no or little heavy lifting is required.
While many of us may roll our eyes at the ridiculously obvious procedures referred to in a general handling training session, thousands of people are unable to employ them when lifting workplace objects. A box of files may not seem heavy but if your job doesn’t involve lifting weights of any size, and you don’t train at a gym, then there is a good chance that you will strain muscles by lifting it. Just because you are capable of lifting something does not mean that that you have developed the core muscles required to lift something without injuring yourself. Equally, lifting or moving a large volume of light objects can also lead to muscle strain, particularly in your neck or shoulders as your body is not used to making those certain repetitive movements under strain.
Always insure that you lift using your legs and not your back, whilst making sure that your back is in a straight position while the lift is occurring. Equally when setting the object down, ensure that you are using your legs to take the weight of the strain and not your back. Finally, always make sure that you carry objects with a full grip and not just parts of your fingers, and never carry more than you are comfortable with to save time. Lifting should be easy, or it is not a job that you should be doing.
Repetitive strain injuries (or repetitive motion injuries) are incredibly common in the workplace. White collar RSI is usually caused through repetition of physically easy tasks, such as typing, data input, filing and answering a phone. These tasks build up over weeks and months to cause aches, numbness, tingling, stiffness and/or swelling in the hands, wrists, shoulders or neck. As a long-term illness RSI is very serious and can end careers.
There are many ways to prevent RSI. Most of them involve mixing up your routine and the positions of your body. The easiest of all to employ is to take regular short breaks while you are working and get up from your desk to stretch out. If this isn’t possible then you should speak to your manager as everyone is entitled to a 5-minute break per hour but there are also few simple things that you can do to stop keyboard and mouse RSI.
Train your other hand to use the mouse by swapping hands on a daily basis
Change the speed of your cursor to be slower. This can reduce tension.
Switch between keyboard shortcuts and mouse commands
Purchase a ergonomic keyboard that suits your desk height, shape and sitting position
Don’t bend your wrists when you type, they should be flat on the desk.
Purchase a gel pad to cushion your wrists into natural positions
4. FALLING OBJECTS
Objects falling from heights can cause serious injuries even in an office. While heavy files and boxes falling from filing racking, or off of high shelves, are the most common of this type of injury; books, paperweights, hole-punches, staplers and other heavy office items can all also cause quite a lot of damage if they fall from a rickety old shelving unit. Employees will often cause items to fall by overstretching for an object or not using an appropriate ladder to reach high shelves. Files stacked up high in storerooms can cause a serious injury when collapsing, but these sorts of injuries are easily preventable.
Always ensure that filing cabinets, bookcases and rack shelving are safely attached to the wall, or stable enough to handle large weights. If you are unsure of the maximum loads that your company’s shelving can handle, then do no risk testing the shelves resolve. Also never use a chair or table in place of a professional ladder for accessing shelves
5. ELECTRIC SHOCKS AND BURNS
Misuse of electrical equipment or operating faulty equipment is the final item on our list, but by no means the least serious. Office accidents like hot water burns from a kettle, or electrical shocks from a toaster, are by far the most common and least severe of this type of accident. But on the other end of the spectrum people have been killed in offices by accidentally touching live wires or operating faulty electrical equipment.
The human body is a brilliant electricity conductor and so it is no surprise that serious damage to the heart, brain and nervous system can occur through contact with an electrical source, as well as serious burns. While many people may feel that fatal contact with an electrical source is only likely to occur when meddling with fuse boards or live wires, they would be very wrong as overloaded sockets, exposed wiring, poorly maintained equipment and water damage can all cause serious electric shocks or electrocution.
A few tips:
Always report to your management equipment such as photocopiers, scanners, printers, shredders and computers that you believe to be on the verge of physical deterioration.
Never use any equipment that you have not been trained to use.
Never try to fix electrical equipment yourself.
Inform a manager when you believe that a certain plug socket or power outlet is being overloaded by too many pieces of equipment
Despite best intentions, sometimes accidents do happen. If an accident occurs and your business is at fault, clients, staff or members of the public could claim for compensation. Public and products liability insurance is an essential safety net, and working with insurance specialists such as Bluefin Group can help you understand your risks and take the necessary steps to reduce them.