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When “Safe” Equipment Isn’t so Innocuous

| Jan 30, 2016 | Workers’ Compensation

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that office equipment is responsible for 75,000 on-the-job injuries each and every year. These injuries range from strains and sprains, to burns and broken bones. Whether from falling, or from malfunction, these injuries pose a real risk that many office workers hardly consider until they find themselves in the doctor’s office.

Dangerous Equipment

Some of the most dangerous pieces of equipment include the following:

  • Filing Cabinets.  A fully loaded filing cabinet drawer can weigh upwards of 100 lbs. That means that a four or five door filing cabinet can pack quite the punch when it topples over. This can crush limbs and cause serious lacerations that require immediate medical attention.
  • Coffee Pots. These essential denizens of the modern office provide the morning pick-me-up many employees need to get going. However, a spilled pot of coffee can cause serious burns. Additionally, should a pot break due to being dropped or improperly heated, it can send dangerous shards of glass into an individual.
  • Chairs. Sitting is safe, right? Unfortunately, not so much. Sitting for long periods can cause musculoskeletal damage and nerve injuries. These injuries are cumulative and worsen over time.
  • Copiers. Toner is toxic, and a toner leak exposes employees to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals. Direct contact with skin can cause chemical burns, eye injury, and respiratory problems.
  • Flooring. Slick tiles, matted carpet, and wood provide very little traction. Slipping on these floors can lead to serious head, neck, and back injuries. If a worker slips on stairs, it can also lead to serious muscle injuries, or even broken bones. The Department of Commerce estimates that the rate of disabling falls is between two and two-and-a-half times greater for office workers than it is is for non-office workers.
  • Chemicals. The use of bleach and other toxic chemicals in an indoor environment is a serious cause for concern. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration warns that indoor air pollution from cleaning products can cause long-term respiratory problems, cancer, and other serious medical conditions. Further, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has conducted multiple studies that show poor ventilation coupled with building layout can pose a serious health risk to employees who spend their days confined indoors.
  • Electrical Cords. Electrical cords pose a number of risks. Faulty cords can short which can lead to electrocution and/or fire. Unsecured cords can also lead to trips and falls.
  • Unsecured Inventory. Heavy boxes stored high on shelving can fall and injure workers when they attempt to access them. Even a box that weighs just a few pounds can cause serious a concussion.
  • Scissors/Cutting Tables/Paper Shredders. One moment of distraction is all it takes to lose control over a pair of scissors or a blade. The deeper the laceration, the more likely it will be to require stitches and medical care. If the device is motorized and the safety shut-off fails, it can even lead to the loss of fingers.

The Most Common Office Injuries

When an office worker is injured, they are most likely to suffer the following injuries:

  • Overexertion. Lifting heavy boxes, moving office furniture, and pushing inventory through the office can strain muscles, tear ligaments, and pull joints out of alignment. Overexertion is consistently rated the most common office injury.
  • Falls. Slippery surfaces both inside and outside the office pose a constant threat. This is especially true in areas where heavy rain or snowfall are common.
  • Repetitive Motion. Typing at a keyboard all day can lead to bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic headaches, eye strain, and other long-term injuries that accumulate over time. These injuries can result in nerve damage and loss of visual acuity.

OSHA is Working to Make the Office Safer

OSHA has increased their enforcement efforts in order to make offices safer for workers. In 2011, they issued 7139 citations to employers for failing to take adequate protective measures to prevent falls. That same year, the agency issued 3944 citations for failing to provide adequate ventilation and respiratory protection. They also issued 2728 citations for failing to properly protect employees from machines and other equipment.

Filing a Workers’ Compensation Claim

Employees who suffer injuries on-the-job should consult a Chicago workers’ compensation attorney to determine the best way to proceed with their claim. Whether the injury is the result of a fall, or because of long-term repetitive stress, employees may file for workers’ compensation in Illinois.

Moreover, if the injury is the result of an employer’s negligence, the employee may have a personal injury claim. For this reason it’s necessary to carefully document and record the worker’s injury, the workplace conditions that led to the injury, and the worker’s treatment history. These are essential to pursuing a personal injury claim and ensuring that an injured worker won’t be left on the hook to cover treatment costs and any long-term care resulting from the injury.