Safety Awareness & Practices: Important at Sea, in the Air or Ashore in the Office

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STORY BY JANE BUSH, SAFETY & OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH SPECIALIST, PERS-53Z

Safety awareness and practices follow us everywhere. All personnel should be in tune with their work environment and be cognizant of safety at all times. Just as fleet Sailors must be aware of the flight deck, underway replenishment or engine room hazards, all personnel working ashore must be aware of office safety issues.

Working in an administrative command’s safety office has shown me not only the hazards that exist, but also the false sense of security displayed by staff members. Personnel tend to get complacent ashore and forget what they’ve learned in the fleet with regards to safety. Consider the basics of an office. Desk chairs tend to have wheels and can lean back. Standing on a chair with wheels to reach an object, leaning far back in a desk chair, and using the chair to haul boxes are a few potential injury-causing actions. I’m still amazed when personnel stand on rolling chairs to reach something right in front of the safety staff. Popular today, although not supported by the Department of Defense, is the use of stability balls as chairs. Originally designed to prevent musculoskeletal injuries, research has shown that they may actually cause injury when used for long periods.

The importance of breaks for office workers can never be over-stressed. Breaks enable your body to rest and help prevent musculoskeletal injuries, to say nothing of your need to periodically rest your brain. File cabinet drawers left open present hazards for personnel walking into them or tripping over them. Opening several cabinet drawers at once can lead to cabinet tip-over. Worn carpets with holes and water on tiled floors are potential trip and slip hazards. Power cords crossing aisles can also be a trip hazard. Office clutter limiting exit aisle width could become a hazard in case of an emergency. Good housekeeping means a safer environment.

Electrical safety should always be a priority. Many office spaces do not have sufficient power outlets to supply all the power gadgets used today, resulting in personnel using several power cords plugged together. “Daisy chaining” of extension cords is a frequent safety issue, especially during the holidays. Combining appliances such as coffee pots, microwaves and refrigerators on one circuit can easily overload the circuit. Overloading circuits greatly increases the likelihood of fires as the increased power consumption translates into heat in the wiring, the circuit breakers and the connected devices. Securing power on an overloaded circuit may suffice to remove the electric shock hazard, but it does not put out the fire caused by melting wires or sparking breakers!

Mold is a hazard that brings fear to many individuals and the truth is mold exists everywhere. There are numerous kinds of mold with varying degrees of toxicity. Certain molds can be dangerous and that is why every effort should be made to prevent mold growth and decrease mold exposure. Additionally, individuals have varying sensitivity levels or conditions that make them more susceptible to mold. There are plenty of damp spaces in an office building where mold can grow, especially older buildings that suffer from leaks, particularly in inaccessible or confined spaces.

Safety training should not be overlooked. The assumption of “I know how to be safe,” is often proven otherwise just by looking at the mishap list. Safety training should be on-going, but should also be appropriate to the worker’s surroundings. Senior leadership support is essential in reinforcing the importance of safety training, practices and the safety of the organization.

Working in an administrative environment ashore may be a relaxing break from a shipboard/overseas tour, but it is not an opportunity to disregard potential safety hazards or to defer safety training. The mission and the tools may be different, but the wisdom of vigilance still prevails. The office environment can harbor many hazards that personnel should be aware of. Safety first is always a good rule, no matter where you are.


ONLINE RESOURCES

Office Environment

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/officeenvironment/default.html

Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ergonomics/default.html

Occupational Safety and Health Administration

https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/index.html

Indoor Environmental Quality

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/indoorenv/

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/index.html