University of Rochester

Environmental Health & Safety

You may think that the Occupational Safety Unit of Environmental Health and Safety concentrates only on laboratory or skill trades related safety, but other areas of the work force are just as important, including office safety.  Offices can become dangerous places because people don't anticipate the potential hazards.

Studies show that over one-fourth of office injuries are caused by falls. One-third of the falls incurred by women are due to wearing high heels, which make falls more likely. For safety at work consider wearing lower, wider heels. Other things that can cause falls are spills on floors, torn carpets or exposed carpet seams, electrical cords running across the floor, open desk or file drawers, boxes or supplies stored in aisles, or waste baskets placed where you could trip over them. If you spot any of these potential problems take the time to get them fixed.

Falls on stairs cause more than 33,000 disabling work injuries each year. About 2/3 of the workers falling on stairs were not using handrails when they fell. Many were carrying objects, or slipped on something left on the steps. Accidents on stairs are usually serious - 80% of these falls result in lost work days. Use handrails, pick up anything you see on the stairs, don't use stairs for storage, and don't try to carry things when using stairs if you can avoid it.

Use common sense with chairs, and don't use them for anything except sitting. Chairs should never be used as replacements for stools or ladders. Standing on chairs can easily cause them to tip over or the person to fall through it or slip off of it. Even for sitting star based (five legged) are more stable and harder to flip over than four legged.

If there are blind corners in offices or halls, consider installing convex mirrors so people can see each other coming. Be especially careful while carrying hot drinks. Don't carry stacks of material so high that your vision is obstructed. Carrying this much material not only blocks your vision but could also strain your back or other muscles.

Use care when stacking material on top of filing cabinets or shelves. Even a carefully stacked pile may start sliding due to vibration from opening and shutting file or cabinet drawers. Also keep an eye out for overloaded upper file drawers. This may cause the entire filing cabinet to tip over on you when you open the drawer. Re-distribute some of the weight to the lower drawers to reduce this chance, and check to make sure the filing cabinet is secured in some manner if it can be.

Maintaining a healthy office environment requires attention to chemical hazards, equipment and work station design, physical environment (temperature, humidity, light, noise, ventilation, and space), task design, psychological factors (personal interactions, work pace, job control) and sometimes, other environmental exposures.

A well-designed office allows each employee to work comfortably without needing to over-reach, sit or stand too long, or use awkward postures (correct ergonomic design). Sometimes, equipment or furniture changes are the best solution to allow employees to work comfortably. On other occasions, the equipment may be satisfactory but the task could be redesigned. For example, studies have shown that those working at computers have less discomfort with short, hourly breaks.

Situations in offices that can lead to injury or illness range from physical hazards (such as cords across walkways, objects falling from overhead) to task-related (speed or repetition, duration, job control, etc.), to environmental (chemical or biological sources) or design-related hazards (such as nonadjustable furniture or equipment). Job stress that results when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities or resources of the worker may also result in illness.

The Occupational Safety Unit of Environmental Health and Safety invites you to visit its website and or contact our office for guidance and assistance with assessments to help prevent workplace injuries.

Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 3/1/2013. Disclaimer.