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Safety in the office

Avoiding computer-related injuries and more.

If you work at a desk all day, chances are you're more worried about the copy machine breaking down than you are about on-the-job injuries. But even office workers can get hurt.

Here's a look at how to protect yourself.

Safe computing

Computer work may seem more mundane than dangerous, but all those long hours at the keyboard can put you at risk for eye, back, neck and wrist strains.

Most often, such injuries are due to poor ergonomics, which means you aren't positioning yourself at the desk properly or that your workstation isn't set up correctly.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and other groups offer these tips for reducing computer-related injuries:

  • Be sure your head is level with the monitor. The top of the screen should be at eye level and at least 20 inches away from your eyes.
  • Position the screen so there's no glare from lights or the sun.
  • When typing, keep your forearms parallel to and held only slightly above the keyboard.
  • Adjust your chair so it supports your lower back. The chair should have a five-leg base and be stable at all times.
  • Rest your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.
  • Stand up and stretch every one or two hours so your back, wrists, fingers and eyes get a break. If you can, take a walk around the block. Be sure you're not in one position for too long.
  • Change your focus from time to time so your eyes have a chance to relax. Just glancing across the room or out the window occasionally can help.
  • Place everything you need within easy reach on your desk so you can avoid twisting motions.
  • Consider using accessories that help reduce eye, wrist and neck strain, such as document holders, wrist and palm rests, ergonomic keyboards, and hands-free telephone headsets.

If you have questions or concerns about your workstation, talk to your manager or human resources director. They can help you make any necessary adjustments or consult an ergonomics specialist who can review your workstation and suggest improvements.

General office safety

Along with making sure your workstation is set up well, be sure your office has:

  • Policies in place to protect employee health and safety.
  • Clearly marked fire exits along with fire extinguishers, sprinklers and alarms.
  • Accessible and well-stocked first aid kits.
  • A plan for handling accidents involving chemicals or other dangerous materials.
  • Well-lighted stairways with handrails and slip-resistant steps.

You can get more information on workplace safety from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration at osha.gov.

reviewed 1/15/2020

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