Office Injury/Illness - Article describing workplace injuries and illness including office health and safety, office hazards, musculoskeletal strains, stress-related symptoms, neck pain, back pain, stress reduction, tension, irritability, disabling accidents, strains and overexertions, safe lifting, and ergonomic solutions. Adjustable Bed, Memory Foam Mattress, Beds and Pillows - Natural Back Pain Relief Products - self-care products

Office-Related Injury and Illness

Changes have occurred in the American workplace as a result of the new office technology and automation of office equipment. As with all new technology, these changes bring with it a set of health and safety concerns. In addition to obvious hazards such as slippery floors or an open file drawer, a modern office may also contain hazards such as, poor lighting, noise, poorly designed furniture, and equipment and machines that emit gases and vapors when properly maintained. Even the nature of office work itself has produced a whole host of stress-related symptoms and musculoskeletal strains. For example, long hours at a poorly designed computer workstation can cause pains in the neck and back, shoulders, lower extremities, arms, wrists, hands, eyestrain, and a general feeling of tension and irritability. The leading types of disabling accidents that occur within the office are the result of falls, strains and overexertions, falling objects, striking against objects, and being caught in or between objects.


Falls are the most common office accident, accounting for the greatest number of disabling injuries. The disabling injury rate of falls among office workers is 2 to 2.5 times higher than the rate for non-office employees. A fall occurs when you lose your balance and footing. Once of the most common causes of office falls is tripping over an open desk or file drawer. Bending while seated in an unstable chair and tripping over electrical cords or wires are other common hazards. Office falls are frequently caused by using a chair or stack of boxes in place of a ladder and by slipping on wet floors. Loose carpeting, objects stored in halls or walkways, and inadequate lighting are other hazards that invite accidental falls. Fortunately, all of these fall hazards are preventable. The following checklist can help stop a fall before it happens.
  • Be sure the pathway is clear before you walk.
  • Close drawers completely after every use.
  • Avoid excessive bending, twisting, and leaning backward while seated.
  • Secure electrical cords and wires away from walkways.
  • Always use a stepladder for overhead reaching. Chairs should never be used as ladders.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Pick up objects co-workers may have left on the floor.
  • Report loose carpeting or damaged flooring.
  • Never carry anything that obscures your vision.
  • Wear stable shoes with non-slip soles.

If you find yourself heading for a fall, remember - roll, don't reach. By letting your body crumple and roll, you are more likely to absorb the impact and momentum of a fall without injury. Reaching an arm or leg out to break your fall may result in a broken limb instead.

Strains and Overexertion

Although a typical office job may not involve lifting large or especially heavy objects, it's important to follow the principles of safe lifting. Small, light loads (i.e., stacks of files, boxes of computer paper, books) can wreak havoc on your back, neck, and shoulders if you use your body incorrectly when you lift them. Backs are especially vulnerable; most back injuries result from improper lifting. Before you pick up a carton or load, ask yourself these questions:
  • Is this too heavy for me to lift and carry alone?
  • How high do I have to lift it?
  • How far do I have to carry it?
  • Am I trying to impress anyone by lifting this?
If you feel that the lift is beyond your ability, contact your supervisor or ask another employee to assist you.

Safe Lifting Steps
  • Take a balanced stance, feet placed shoulder-width apart.
  • When lifting something from the floor, squat close to the load.
  • Keep your back in its neutral or straight position.
  • Tuck in you chin so your head and neck continue the straight back line.
  • Grip the object with your whole hand, rather than only with your fingers.
  • Draw the object close to you, holding your elbows close to your body to keep the load and your body weight centered.
  • Lift by straightening your legs. Let your leg muscles, not your back muscles, do the work.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles to help support your back.
  • Maintain your neutral back position as you lift.
  • Never twist when lifting. When you must turn with a load, turn your whole body, feet first.
  • Never carry a load that blocks your vision.
  • To set something down, use the same body mechanics designed for lifting.
  • Never lift from a sitting position. Always squat and stand whenever you have to retrieve something from the floor.

Ergonomic Solutions to Backbreaking Tasks
  • Rearrange the space to avoid twisting while lifting. People who have to twist under a load are more likely to suffer back injury.
  • Rotate through tasks so that periods of standing alternate with moving or sitting.
  • Ask for stools or footrests for stationary jobs.
  • Whenever possible, store materials at knee level instead of on the floor.
  • To avoid reaching forward to lift an object, make shelves shallower (12-18")
  • Break up loads so each weighs less.
  • If your must carry a heavy object some distance, consider storing it closer or try to use a hand truck or cart to transport it.

Striking Against Objects/Falling Objects

Striking against objects is another cause of office injuries. Incidents of this type include:
  • Bumping into doors, desks, file cabinets, and open drawers.
  • Bumping into other people while walking.
  • Striking open file drawers while bending down or straightening up.
  • Striking against sharp objects such as office machines, spindle files, staples, and pins.

Pay attention to where you are walking at all times, properly store materials in your work area and never carry objects that prevent you from seeing ahead of you.

Falling objects and/or objects striking employees occur as a result of:
  • Office supplies sliding from shelves or cabinet tops.
  • Overbalanced [top heavy] file cabinets in which two or more drawers were opened at the same time or in which the file drawer was pulled out too far.
  • Machines, such as typewriters, that were dropped on feet.
  • Doors that were opened suddenly from the other side.

Proper material storage and use of storage devices can avoid these accidents.

Caught In or Between Objects

The last category of leading disabling incidents occurs as a result of office workers who get their fingers or articles of clothing caught in or between objects. Office workers may be injured as a result of:
  • Fingers caught in a drawer, door, or window.
  • Fingers, hair or articles of clothing and jewelry caught in office machines.
  • Fingers caught under the knife-edge of a paper cutter.

When working on office equipment, always concentrate on what you are doing.

Material Storage

Office materials that are improperly stored can lead to objects falling on workers, poor visibility, and create a fire hazard. A good housekeeping program will reduce or eliminate hazards associated with improper storage of materials. Examples of improper storage include - disorderly piling, piling materials too high, and obstructing doors, aisles, fire exits and fire-fighting equipment. The following are good storage practices:
  • Boxes, papers, and other materials should not be stored on top of lockers or file cabinets because they can cause landslide problems.
  • Boxes and cartons should all be of uniform size in any pile or stack. Always stack material in such a way that it will not fall over.
  • Store heavy objects on lower shelves.
  • Try to store materials inside cabinets, files, and lockers.
  • Office equipment such as typewriters, index files, lights or calculators should not be placed on the edges of a desk, filing cabinet, or table.
  • Aisles, corners, and passageways must remain unobstructed. There should be no stacking of materials in these areas.
  • Storage areas should be designated and used only for that purpose.
  • Store heavy materials so you do not have to reach across something to retrieve them.
  • Fire equipment, extinguishers, fire door exits, and sprinkler heads should remain unobstructed. Materials should be at least 18 inches minimum away from sprinkler heads.

Used with permission of Office of Health and Safety,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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