Office safety myths shattered

ONCE a upon a time office workers thought of themselves as lucky to be away from the noisy and dangerous shop floor. That fairy story myth is fast becoming a harsh reality of quite a different colour.

ONCE a upon a time office workers thought of themselves as lucky to be away from the noisy and dangerous shop floor. That fairy story myth is fast becoming a harsh reality of quite a different colour.

The Compendium of Workers Compensation statistics Australia 2006-07 published by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council dated March 2009 -reflects some surprising statistics. First, the majority of serious claims involved either an injury or a poisoning registering a figure of 73 %.

The most common injuries constituting a serious claim were soft tissue injuries -41% (including sprains, joint strains and muscles) If we overview the usual range of office work related injuries we note the following:

Most common: back injuries, common triggers = poorly designed work stations; chair, desk to chair ratio;

Next, Repetitive strain injuries, common triggers=high speed data entry tasks over lengthy periods of time;

Severe neck and shoulder injuries, common triggers= a combination of the two tasks set out above;

Eye strain and resultant headaches, common triggers = monitor glare and inadequate or incorrect office lighting;

Sick Building Syndrome, common triggers = new furniture and carpet off- gassing (formaldehyde vapour);

Headaches, lassitude, eye strain, common triggers= photo-copy machine use for extended periods and exposure to ultra-violet glare and location in an airless small room]

Added to the above we now find the ubiquitous mobile phone becoming a cause of worker injury. Symptoms may include aching, tingling or numbness even a burning sensation in the hand, forearm or elbow.

Common triggers are repeated, frequent and lengthy conversations on a mobile phone, when the elbow is frequently held in an un-naturally flexed position that is -greater than 90°.

Recommended strategies to minimise these symptoms may include:

An ‘awareness’ of the excess use of a mobile phone leading to hyper-extension of the elbow for lengthy periods of time;

Use of a mobile phone headset;

Switching of hands holding the phone;

Use of a different chair with a soft cushioned arm rest;

Use of elbow pads;

Positioning of desk and chair so as to ensure elbow bends no more than 90°;

If all of the above fails, a visit to a MD may be necessary.

Employers need to pay more attention to office workers ‘complaints’ since these can have underlying causes no less serious than those generated on the shop floor.

* Ray Schaffer is the principal consultant with RMH Schaffer & Co, 02 9878 0613, consultants in health, safety and pollution management. Go to www.ferret.com.au, click on OH&S and enter RMH Schaffer & Co in the service provider box. Pose a question and receive an answer at no cost.