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6 top workplace safety concerns

Explore the importance of workplace safety, discover six workplace safety concerns and learn how to ensure a safer work environment for all with workplace safety tips.

The office appears neat, organized and comfortable. Yet, hazards lurk in and around any given workstation, and accidents and injuries occur in even the safest work environment.

Any reputable employer's first priority is their employees, and an employee's confidence in security and comfort at the office is the basis for a successful, thriving work environment.

Of course, responsibility for the health and safety of the workplace and its inhabitants falls not only on an employer, but employees, too.

Why workplace safety is important

In 2021, 2.6 million people suffered an injury or illness resulting in lost time at work in the private sector, and more than 4,400 of those injuries were fatal and preventable, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data. These injuries and illnesses are key players in their business roles. The result is somewhere between a troublesome and devastating effect on the workplace, the injured worker and the worker's family.

Financially, office workplace injuries drain profits. The cost of private-industry, work-related injuries amounted to $167 billion in 2021, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Beyond the hit to the bottom line, work-related injuries increase the workload on other employees and decrease morale. However, employers who focus on the safety of their workers raise morale and increase retention, in addition to attracting prospects more readily.

Common workplace safety hazards

Like any other workplace, the office environment has its own set of safety hazards to consider. Offices can pose a risk to employees' health and well-being. Here are some of the most common office safety hazards to consider when planning for a safe work environment and prioritizing employee well-being.

1. Ergonomics

A productive and cohesive workplace begins with forethought for the safety of employees. Slipping, tripping and falling at work still account for the majority of in-office injuries. Among the hazards are exposed extension cords or workers standing on a chair or desk, instead of a ladder, to grab an out-of-reach item. In addition, an unaware employee handling poorly installed electrical devices is, of course, in an unsafe situation and, even if uninjured, may adversely affect the power supply to the entire building.

Other possible hazards during day-to-day employment in an office include the following:

  • Eye strain.
  • Poor posture.
  • Repetitive motion.
  • Stress.
  • Insufficient breaks.

In many of the above instances, employees can take personal measures and precautions to minimize these risks. And diligent employers talk regularly about safety and demand it from themselves and their employees.

2. Noise levels

Whether from cars outside or chatter inside, excessive noise levels are distracting at best, physically taxing at worst, making them legitimate health risks to office employees. Noisy work areas can induce headaches, migraines and even hearing loss, especially in office space located near construction sites or busy highways.

Often, employers mitigate these ergonomic issues by having workers wear headphones when listening to audio, placing loud office equipment -- printers and fax machines, for example -- away from workspaces and keeping desks separated. Self-advocating employees still facing noise issues can and should request relocation to a quieter work area.

3. Air quality

It is imperative to keep office spaces properly ventilated, as extended exposure to contaminated air can lead to respiratory problems, such as asthma, pulmonary hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Several workplace aspects affect an office's air quality, including the following:

  • Outside air.
  • Mold.
  • Leftover food.
  • Spills.
  • Waste.
  • Overcrowded workspace.

However, a rigorous cleaning regimen, top-level maintenance and filtration of all in-office systems retain proper airflow and ventilation, protect the health of the workers and, in turn, increase the likelihood of a stable, productive workspace.

Should an air-quality hazard arise, an employer who hires outside professionals to manage the issue sends a signal to employees. It shows employees they are valuable and are being provided with the best-quality assistance to maintain everyone's health and the integrity of the office.

4. Lighting

In the digital age, appropriate office lighting has never been more important, both from overhead fixtures and computer-screen emissions. Much like humidity affects the air quality, lighting affects the physical and mental aspects of one's ability to perform a job.

Low lighting can cause eye strain as an employee struggles to see, overtaxing the eye's muscles, while continued exposure to excessive lighting increases the likelihood of long-term vision impairment. Proper lighting protects against day-to-day eye strain, limiting the possibility of chronic vision issues in the process.

To prevent eye strain and lighting-related health issues, do the following:

  • Use proper eyewear.
  • Limit screen time.
  • Take adequate breaks.
  • Keep the air quality of the workplace clean.
  • Prevent the sun's rays from hitting computer screens near windows.

Exposure to more natural light, proper office light distribution, eliminating glare and quickly changing flickering lights all prevent eye damage and keep the office a comfortable place to work. Offices are required to meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards of lighting, but it is ultimately up to the employer to enforce them.

Learn more about promoting digital wellness in the workplace.

5. Illness

Airborne illness is common in the workplace, and due to its nature, it spreads quickly. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, attentive employers remain focused on limiting the spread of COVID-19 and influenza viruses. According to OSHA, illness in the workplace spreads from the following:

  • Bodily fluids.
  • Plants.
  • Animal droppings.
  • Fungi.
  • Insect bites.
  • Mold.

In cases of office illness, the best course is to encourage the sick employee to stay home, preventing the spread and checking its potential to harm many others in the department. When a sick employee must physically appear in the workplace, that person should be masked and then allowed to work in a secluded, sanitized workspace.

6. Physical injury

Workplace injuries commonly occur due to improper lifting procedures. Whether picking up stacks of paper or simply moving one's desk a few inches, an office worker using poor technique can strain muscles that lead to back problems.

According to BLS, one in every five workplace illnesses or injuries is a back injury. And the median number of days missed with a back injury is nine days, according to NSC. Further, these injuries affect people more severely than other injuries, and many require major corrective surgeries, followed by casts or additional clothing for extra lumbar support.

When moving heavy objects, it is important to do the following:

  • Lift with the legs, not the back.
  • Avoid sudden twisting motions when carrying an object.
  • Ask another healthy employee to help with heavier or larger items.
  • Communicate quickly with co-workers over potential concerns.

Again, clear communication from staff members among each other -- and with management -- helps pinpoint additional potential workplace hazards.

Tips on how to improve workplace safety

By creating a culture of awareness and proactive measures, employees and employers can contribute to a secure and conducive office setting. Here are some tips to improve workplace safety and prioritize the wellness of employees:

  • Survey employees to determine top concerns. Conducting a risk assessment analysis provides employers with a better understanding of the priorities and anxieties of the workplace. It also gives the employer a more refined idea of the needs and functions of each position.
  • Make use of safety training programs. An established safety program gives employers and their workers further information on how to maintain safety in the workplace. Investing in a program such as this typically results in a lower number of workplace injuries, lower cost to the business and higher morale among healthy, secure employees.
  • Maintain regular sanitization. Diligent, caring employers insist on keeping the work environment safe and clean, which not only boosts morale, but squashes possible health threats before they take root.
  • Offer incentives for successful work safety. Many establishments track how many days have passed without incident, and this is done to motivate workers to continue to keep safe on the job. Offering prizes and encouraging friendly competition among workers are great ways to keep engagement up and preventable injuries down.

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