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Office Risk Assessment

How Investing Initial Time in Employee Comfort and Safety Can Reduce Office Risk Long-term

Think about how much movement happens at a desk – fingers flying across the keyboard, reaching for a cup of coffee and bending to open the file cabinet. Although these may seem like mundane motions with little effect on your overall health, conditions such as nerve damage, back problems and vision issues can arise from poorly arranged work stations.

Sedentary work stations can be a risk for employee health. Claims for injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome began to rise in the mid-1990s with the advent of computers in the workplace, caused in part by improper work station setup.

“We saw an opportunity to reduce employee risk for injury with a proactive approach to work station design and ergonomic equipment,” said Vicky McGavack, executive director of employee health for Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.

California is one of the only states that has an ergonomic Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standard that requires employers to take the appropriate steps to prevent repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) 1. Human resource departments can refer to state regulations when establishing a program. However, going beyond the minimum standards and making accommodations – within reason – can reduce company costs over the long-term and improve job satisfaction 2.

Taking the initial steps to reduce the harmful effects of repetitive and sedentary work and communicating with employees on how to avoid injury shows concern for employees and reduces risk over the long-term. Research and practice – both at Hoag and other businesses – have found the key to reducing risk is prevention. Besides initial physicals when an employee is first hired, providing employees with education and adjustable equipment for their work stations can improve job performance and productivity.

Even small adjustments can make drastic improvements to employee satisfaction in the workplace, especially in the areas below.

Lighting is extremely important and oftentimes there is too much light in an office setting. Ideally, the lighting should be designed to allow employees to focus on tasks, prevent reflection on computer screens and avoid harshness that might translate to headaches or eye strain from prolonged exposure. According to McGavack, when building a work space, designers have a tendency install lighting without regard to how it will reflect on a work surface. If the lighting is not adjusted or work stations are not spaced out to make appropriate use of the light in the room, people might as well be wearing visors at their desk.

Taking time to sit down with a new employee, who has not yet acclimated to the lighting, is the best chance to prevent future problems. Of workers who experience headaches, about half miss one to three days of work a month due to a headache, which costs companies $17 billion in absenteeism, lost productivity and medical expenses 3. Evaluating each employee’s needs and vision, as well as adjusting the placement of work stations can avoid these costs for companies.

Desk equipment
Educate employees on how to set-up and adjust their keyboard, monitor and chair. Another simple, preventative measure includes supplying ergonomic wrist rests and headsets for those employees that spend long hours on the telephone. More often than not, this initial time invested is sufficient to provide an employee with an ideal work area. When current equipment is not set up correctly, spending $300 to $400 on a different keyboard, platform or chair is a much more cost-effective solution than spending $20,000 on a workers’ compensation claim.

Activities such as typing and reaching across your desk are supposed to be easy and within your range of movement. Making sure the tools and equipment employees are using are working for, and not against, them is essential to reducing office risk.

Special thanks to Hoag’s Vicky McGavack, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian Executive Director of Employee Health.

Written by Leeann Garms