Fans of NFL Super Bowl commercials might remember the 2003 competition as the day the world was introduced to "office linebacker" Terry Tate. A series of ads sprinkled throughout the televised game featured Tate, a 250-pound, football jersey-wearing behemoth who blindsides unassuming office workers for various workplace violations. Take the last of the coffee without refilling the pot? He'll lay you out ("You kill the joe, you make some mo'!"). Make a long-distance personal call on the office phone? Terry will put you through a cubicle wall.
For office dwellers whose workspace isn't patrolled by a vicious tackling machine, there are likely still a number of less menacing dangers lurking in your office space. Office workers sustain more than 75,000 on-the-job injuries -- from sprains and strains to broken bones -- each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Many of these injuries are caused by falls, falling objects or over-exertion, but the culprit is frequently an ordinary office item.
Before you shove that stack of papers in the shredder, read on to find out the 10 most dangerous items in the office, as well as tips for safely handling them.
10: File Cabinet
A guy walks into a file cabinet and...hurts himself. These large, heavy, metal objects with sharp corners pose a safety hazard if not strategically placed and properly used. According to office supply and furniture retailer Staples, a file cabinet should be located in an area with minimal foot traffic so as to avoid accidents where someone trips over or walks into the cabinet. When using the file cabinet, employees should open one drawer at a time to avoid tip-overs from uneven weight distribution, and be sure that each compartment is fully closed -- by using the handle and not shoving the flat face of the drawer -- before walking away.
Scissors are designed for cutting paper, cardboard, cloth and the like, but a sharp pair can also slice into a user who's not careful. As kids, many of us were chided by parents, teachers and various authority figures to never run with scissors. And they were right: running, jogging or even briskly walking with a sharp object in hand is generally a bad idea.
Sharp blades also pose a threat to those who use scissors while safely seated but take their eyes off of the cutting, inadvertently nicking fingers that aren't kept in the clear. Safety scissors, which feature plastic guards over the blades and rounded ends instead of sharp tips on the blades, are a safer alternative to scissors generally found in homes and offices [source: Schaefer].
8: Paper (Cuts!)
Even the office veteran who juggles steaming cups of coffee and sharp scissors while maneuvering through a maze of open file cabinets and rolling chairs can be brought to his knees by the sharp pain of the dreaded paper cut. Unlike other superficial skin cuts -- from a razor blade or even scissors -- paper deposits material in the wound as it cuts, causing the sting that anyone who's ever had a paper cut will never forget [source: Glass]. They're often caused by a single sheet that's been slightly dislocated from a stack of paper so that the handler doesn't notice a sharp protruding edge.
You can avoid paper cuts by being careful not to drag hands or fingers along the edges of a paper pile. Additionally, if you regularly handle large stacks or reams of paper, help protect your digits with creams (or beeswax), gloves and finger guards [sources: Mikal, Gordon].
7: Staple Remover
Take one look at your clamp-style staple remover, and it's clear that this is one office product that could easily be used as a weapon. With tight hinges and sharp, metal teeth that resemble the jaws of a strong animal, one false move when handling a staple remover can wreak havoc on your fingers. The National Archives instructs its employees to handle a staple remover with care by making sure that the document to be unfastened is first laid flat on a work surface. The remover should be used to open the staple from behind, then removed by pulling on the front of the staple after the document is flipped over.
Unless you moonlight as a professional wrestler, the typical office worker isn't likely to get hit over the head with a chair. Nevertheless, a seat can do long-term musculoskeletal damage if not set up and sat in properly.
To prevent injury, use a chair with an adjustable height, seat back and arm rests. When sitting in the chair, OSHA advises that your feet should rest flat on the floor, your thighs should be parallel to the ground and the seat front should not press against the back of your knees or lower legs.
It's not just about where you sit; it's also about how you sit. Office safety experts at James Madison University advise employees to resist the urge to lean back in a chair to the extent that its wheels or legs leave the floor (or risk falling backward) and to take the time to check that the seat is beneath them before actually sitting down.
5: Copy Machine
You're not alone if every now and then you dream of picking up a baseball bat and taking some "Office Space"-style revenge on the company copy machine. If you're not careful, though, a copier can damage more than just your TPS reports.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that copiers pose hazards to office employees by leaking toxic chemicals and emitting excessive light that can be harmful to eyes. To keep workers safe, copy machines should be routinely serviced, and their document covers should always be closed while in use. Individuals should avoid direct skin contact with leaking chemicals and clean any spills immediately. Finally, the machine should be in a well-ventilated area to avoid indoor air pollution.
Here's one thing that can't be used to create, bind or shred a document, yet can be found in every office in the world: floors. Just like standard office tools, floors can be dangerous if not properly maintained. A slick, cluttered or dimly lit walkway is an invitation to a fall, which OSHA cites as the most common cause of disabling injuries sustained on the job. Office floors should be cleaned regularly and cleared of any loose material -- including frayed carpet or rugs. When navigating the office, workers should act like drivers: They need to keep their eyes on the road (in this case, the floor).
3: Tangled Cords
Tangled cords are one type of clutter that can turn an office walkway into a harrowing obstacle course. It's almost as if cords tangle themselves. Then they go chameleon, blending into floors, carpets and walls, unnoticed until someone trips over them. According to OSHA, slips, trips and falls -- many which can be caused by tangled cords -- constitute the majority of general industry accidents, as well as 15 percent of all accidental job-related deaths. A surface cable raceway -- a plastic guard that shields cords, wires and cables running across walkways -- can not only protect cables and keep them untangled, but also alert people to their presence in walking spaces.
2: Paper Shredder
A paper shredder is an inherently dangerous office item that must be used with care; it's a motorized cutting device designed to tear paper documents into tiny, unrecognizable strips. The Consumer Product Safety Commission advises that the majority of shredder-related injuries occur while feeding paper into the machine. Shredder users should be careful to keep long hair, ties, necklaces and loose clothing away from the shredder opening and to resist the urge to place hands or fingers in the shredder opening while in use. The machine should also be unplugged when not in use or when removing jammed paper. Keep the shredder and any of its power cords away from heavy foot traffic areas.
1: Cleaning Products
In a 2011 CareerBuilder survey, more than a quarter of employers stated that they are less likely to promote an employee whose work space is messy or disorganized. Yet while a dirty office may jeopardize your career prospects, cleaning it up can do the same thing to your health.
Many cleaning products contain potentially dangerous ingredients that can be hazardous to users whether at home or in the office. NOAA warns that these products should always be stored in their original containers, and you should always read the safety instructions printed on the container before using a particular product. Additionally, employers should schedule office cleaning for times when employees are not in the office, as well as train staff in proper handling, use, storage and safety procedures for cleaning products.
Lots More Information
- 5 Lifting Safety Tips
- 10 Jobs That Will Likely Send You to the ER
- Adventures in Officeland: Is Your Cubicle a Deathtrap?
- 7 Health Problems of the Modern Age
- Limiting Allergies in the Workplace
- Pregnancy and Work Safety
- CareerBuilder. "Office Hoarding." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.careerbuilder.com/jobposter/resources/page.aspx?pagever=OfficeHoarderStudy2011&template=none
- Glass, Don. "Paper Cuts, Why So Painful?" Indiana Public Media. March 8, 2007. (Jan. 6, 2012) http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/paper-cuts/
- Gordon, Whitson. "Avoid Paper Cuts with Hand Cream." LifeHacker. July 12, 2011. (Jan. 10, 2012) http://lifehacker.com/5820340/avoid-getting-paper-cuts-with-hand-cream
- Greenhouse, Steven. "Work-Related Injuries Underreported." The New York Times. Nov. 16, 2009. (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/us/17osha.html
- InfoSec Today. "Office Safety: Thwart Work Space Hazards with Simple Solutions." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.infosectoday.com/ITToday/OfficeSafety.htm
- James Madison University. "Safety in the Office." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.jmu.edu/safetyplan/office/index.shtml
- Mikal, Sarkozy. "Paper Cuts Treatment." Natural Health Wellness. Jan. 3, 2012. (Jan. 9, 2012) http://natural-healthwellness.blogspot.com/2012/01/paper-cuts-treatment-and-medicines-for.html
- National Archives. "Fastened Documents." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.archives.gov/preservation/holdings-maintenance/fastened-docs.html
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. "Office Safety." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.labtrain.noaa.gov/osha600/mod27/2706----.htm
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. "Paper Shredder Safety." Sep. 2006. (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.seco.noaa.gov/Safety/Newsletters/NWS/STATSept06.pdf
- Schaefer, Patricia. "Is Your Home Office Safe for Kids and Pets?" Business Know-How. (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.businessknowhow.com/homeoffice/kids-pets-safety.htm
- Staples. "File Cabinet Safety Tips." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.staples.com/sbd/content/article/e-h/filecabinetsafety.html
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "Paper Shredder Safety Alert."(Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/5127.html
- U.S. Department of Labor. "Commonly Used Statistics." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html
- U.S. Department of Labor. "Computer Workstations Checklist." (Jan. 6, 2012) http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/checklist.html