In my staffing business, on any given day I can have employees working in a wide variety of businesses, industries, and occupations. I could have employees welding for a machine shop, lifting boxes on a production floor, keyboarding while talking on the phone with customers in a call center, and working at a computer in an office as an accountant. Some of these jobs may seem to carry more risk of injury than others, but the truth is, all jobs have some level of risk and even in an office, employees can get injured.
Oftentimes, businesses working in an office environment don’t give safety much thought, until an accident or workplace illness claim occurs. But, every year, thousands of office workers incur workplace illnesses or injuries. The number one cause of office injuries is from slipping and falling. Surprisingly, office workers incur more slip and falls than other non-office employees. This is followed by sprains, dislocations and fractures, then strains and over-exertions, and finally by injuries resulting from being struck by a foreign object. The reality is, if you have an employee, Labor & Industries has workplace safety rules that apply to you to ensure your workers’ safety.
Here are a few rules that you could apply to be compliant in your workplace:
- First of all, you must provide a safe workplace for your employees. If you are aware of any unsafe conditions you must prohibit your employees from entering or being in the workplace.
- You must have a safety committee or safety meetings for your employees. If you have 10 or fewer employees you can hold monthly safety meetings which must contain at least one representative of management.
- At these meetings you must cover any reports of hazards and investigations of any accidents that have occurred to determine if unsafe conditions have been corrected, evaluate your accident prevention program and discuss recommendations for improvement, and keep records of the meeting and attendance.
- If you have more than 10 employees you have to have a safety committee which has employee-elected and employer-selected members serving for a maximum of one year, with an elected chair.
- Your business must also have a formal, written Accident Prevention Program (APP). There are specific elements that must be contained in your plan. To help your company create the plan, you can access a template on L&I’s website and tailor it to fit your company’s environment and needs.
- Once you have your APP created, remember that you have to follow it!
- Your office has to have first aid supplies available and if you don’t have a clinic or hospital near your office you must have a person onsite who is trained to render first aid. Check with your local fire department for first aid training classes.
- Did you know that if you have eight or more employees that your company must also maintain a safety bulletin board? L&I suggests you post safety information, statistics, and newsletters there, but there are no actual requirements for what you put on your bulletin board it’s only required that you have one.
- Your workplace is required to have portable fire extinguishers and they must be inspected annually. Further, employees must be trained in their use when they are hired, and retrained annually.
- There are also rules on keeping your workplace clean including how to sweep in order to minimize kicking up dust in the air and reducing obstacles in the office that will get in the way of cleaning. And, by the way, if at all possible you’re supposed to clean after work hours when your employees are not present.
The layout of your office is also prescribed by L&I.:
- You must maintain at least three feet distance between desks and allow at least 50 square feet per employee.
- L&I even prescribes the number of toilets you must provide (1 for up to 15 employees, 2 for 16 to 35 and so on). And, obviously, they want you to keep the bathrooms well stocked and clean.
- The same goes for your lunch room. If you have one, it needs to be sanitary and clean. (If you don’t have a regular “fridge fling”, you never know what toxic substance may lurk at the back)
Did you know that you also must prohibit alcohol and narcotics in your workplace?
A couple years ago the workers on the SR 520 project made the news when they had beer in the office, supposedly at the end of their workday. No big deal if they bought it with their own money and drank it off hours, right? Actually, not so according to state law which prohibits any alcohol in any workplace, even in a closed container.
Now that you know some of the rules and regulations that Labor & Industries requires of your business, what are the steps you should go through to make sure your office environment is really safe?
- First of all, you and your employees should do a simple walkthrough to analyze the office environment. Take notice of hazards you might overlook such as poor lighting, electrical cords that could cause tripping, walkways narrowed by boxes or furniture, or materials piled too high that could fall causing injury. Oftentimes, we start to overlook hazards as they become part of our normal daily office routine. If you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for L&I has a sample safety checklist on their website you can utilize. It covers everything from ensuring old food is cleared from the refrigerator to door-opening crash bars working easily.
- Ask your employees to describe their job and the physical requirements and duties, as well as the equipment and tools they use. Review this article with them, and ask them if they have what they need to perform their job without causing them any physical issues. Something as simple as a better chair, different keyboard or wrist rest can prevent an expensive workplace injury.
- File boxes filled with paper can be very heavy. Talk with your employees about safe lifting, getting assistance, and not stacking boxes too high.
Any business owner or manager knows how expensive a workplace injury can be for an employer, not to mention the lost productivity while injured employees recover. Preventing injuries is always cheaper and smarter than coping with them after the fact.