office hazards

25112 used Ask the Experts™
in office setting, what are some hazards for safety that is not very obvious?

an example will be wire clutter in floor.. any other thoughts to add to it?
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Wow, I can think of dozens.

Open coffee cups, coffee makers
Cords across where people walk, or loose under desks
Stacked boxes or equipment
Blocked or inactive sprinklers or fire alarms
Blocked or locked exits
Space heaters
Refrigerators with old food still left in them
Overloaded outlets, too much drain on a given electrical circuit
Unsecured bookcases, water coolers, etc
Electrical outlets near a water fountain
Anything that can be tripped over, especially things like carpet or rug edges, door threshholds, or open file drawers
Asbestos or other hazardous substances
Chairs that roll too freely or can be tipped easily
Windows that open on above ground floors
Broken or exposed cables on electronics
Ungrounded electrical plugs
Unsecured paper cutters or other sharp equipment
Hazard --> hazard to your health:
- poor monitor resolution can result in eye strain
- Too much sitting linked to an early death
Even women who exercised regularly risked shortening their lifespan if most of their daily hours were sedentary ones.
- I have heard that too low a seat height or repetitive motions can result in carpal tunnel syndrome, but there is not official medical evidence indicating this.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Fact Sheet
There is little clinical data to prove whether repetitive and forceful movements of the hand and wrist during work or leisure activities can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
badly fitting chairs
electrical cords which have been repeatedly removed from sockets improperly
heavy printers which have to be moved to remove paper jams
bent paper clips, sharp envelope openers
paper shredders
unstable book cases.
book cases not attached to walls in earthquake regions
too hot water
CFL lamps not stored properly so they might get broken
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Top Expert 2013
vermin housing in - or running around the office
Thumbtacks from wall falling on floor or chair.
Top Expert 2013
One internal one: your mind.
Sexual harassment.

Anecdote removed by Moderator 5/5/14
Depends on environment. Three quickies on that: type of flooring such as carpeting vs tile or linoleum. Simple paperclip on tile can be near deadly trip hazard for example. Type of chair such as for desk vs higher for more physical labor. While latter can be single leg, round base, the former can be the worst actual hazard. Then there's the habits of employees, where some seem over-caffeinated the way they hurriedly scurry about busy busily in their less than productive modes, office horseplay such as tossing objects back and forth, even M&M's not really aimed at mouth, many wolfishly. Some married managers noticing unfamiliar young females more slender than pretty, age approximate that of their own daughters, scurrying after them to find out more about their work location and habits, with others joining in the chase as a wolfpack. The youngest female soon after switched jobs and company citing work environment as reason to leave when debriefed.  Lifting method can be hazardous whether for weight or more simply the position (issue re: back/spine, unsafe to use them for lifting). This can be from wear and tear or more isolated 'scrunch'. I've another 'story" I'll try to defer to separate comment.

Floor. While some trip hazards like paperclip (coin?) are less obvious to most, some that are obvious to some are not so to others, so for office environment let me add the lengthier cables that  get found stretched across aisle/walkway including for power and networking. The floor itself may not be really level, and that state is not obvious until one trips. For main workroom example of less obvious is the empty pallet or skid. Where initial mitigation can be to maintain designed walkways that are to be well marked and kept clear, this is found insufficient as employees going off to break may rush to cut through less familiar work area. That lead to additional mitigation including first leaning them vertically (more vacant floor space and visibility) then stacking them (at least more to height of knee than shoe). Such an environment precludes certain shoe types, such as open toe or canvas, but still there was a supervisor having height of basketball player who wore the higher flat heels. It was thought managers are better positioned when employees have to look up to them. Many don't look up or down ignoring environment. Or around corners, where approach to mitigation includes adding mirrors.

Electrical. For most electronic issues, the least obvious seems to be the surge, while some ignore the heat generated. While the heat requires heavier steady power, when turned from off to on there is a vastly higher surge generated that is not well suppressed. Their circuits should be segregated from other devices like desktops. The segregation should include the refrigerators, copiers, shared printers, coffee pots (or tea or 'warmers'). Devices like these often found within or near cubicles, as are portable fans. I've seen people bring in small refrigerators and excessed microwaves to supplement coffee makers. Where initial electrical design may have been # cubicles per circuit breaker based on anticipated requirement of computer platform, more modern evolution adds speakers, earphones (personal music or even training videos), additional computers and monitors, there's also the less obvious additional rechargers and wireless enablers. This can well combine to overload circuits. Er, presuming it obvious that upgrade to circuit breakers is in the past.

Weather. Consider weather effects. While lightning does still get through to desktops, the water can be more damaging both from above (through leak) and below. We had multiple floods take down systems with and without help of hurricane. Mitigation can be more than raising floor, moving computers to higher floor. Yet in building with main computers on 1st floor, hurricane took out more in smaller room supporting network on 2nd floor. Why? For 'some' reason they'd connected through UPS devices beneath raised floor at ground level. Most routing also remained on 1st floor. Unobvious is also the revision to cabling. So - office has lowered ceiling, Office upgrading to state of art, remodeling of floor plan, cables run up tp and down from ceiling. Those in more hurry simply lay across the ceiling that was not designed to carry weight, yet the weight it has to hold increase over time. Not only that, they'll be found laying above light fixtures. Whoah. But, out of sight out of mind - and Murphy. While there is gravity that applies to fallen rain, once it is through the rooftop defenses the effect is not vertical. The seepage can follow structure or pipe and arrive at any part of floorplan, and any floor. While a cubicle here and there can be addressed early enough (what about sprinklers?) Consider how it can also pool on the raised ceiling, and that it may be accumulating and soaking into one already overloaded with unforeseen weight. Oh, need more than trash can under leak to handle some effects <crash>.

Fire. Supplementing the above, we had multiple fires attributed to printers. Not sure the causes, but they do generate a lot of paper dust that may help spread, paper storage management can be issue, and soft enhancements such as for flooring and cubicle walls can more help assist than deter the spread. The smoke itself can damage. However, combining rumour and fact for sample, where fire damage obviously took out documents where financial records in cabinet regarding suspicious activity were found more damaged than others ... and where scurry of cleanup had staff breaking windows on high floor to toss damaged goods to ground - computers, chairs, .. (resulting in upgrades) ... we should add/include quality of employee morale, fitness for duties, quality of work life. Also consider trash cans and vehicles.

Where smoking permitted in office, (is it still?) an additional can with a lid had been added. Outdoors there's a device having main area for trash collection, such as for those returning from fast food stop, and a cover atop for the cigarette butts to accumulate, then be dumped upon a discarded newspaper. Device being placed against building wall. So ... <hmm> flammability of building itself, all areas. I recall a couple disgruntled managers flecking ashes at trash can or not - more often hitting carpet.  [Still, I recall a number of trashcan fires unrelated to smokers.] I also recall more than a few vehicle fires (engine fuel), and some parking areas being beneath building (not garage, ceiling to those walking outdoors, floor to those still working) - and - numerous, perhaps regular remodeling. The latter leads directing to handling fires and evacuation plans. These can be outdated, where designated extinguishers are expired, less accessible, temporarily unavailable (becomes permanently so), staff does not know where they are, how to use, what type of fire they are suited for. So, for place of work that has been around a long time, had great policies and procedures to handle safety, include consideration for affect of turn around. Suppose there were designated fire marshals among staff, safety officer, persons trained in CPR, fire drills. Cannot count on same people being available forever always. There can be backup plan both current and future, training supported by the company, and regular revisit of issues (maintenance). These topics are such nature as computer systems managers should be well aware of for their 'toys' while they could remain less adept at applying to building security issues. For the latter, consider not only the exit strategy. but those for entrance. For emergency, can those knowledgeable still get in to mitigate (building security). Is accessibility facilitated or hindered such as for firefighters' prompt access. Were they contacted (politics), can they locate doorways, traverse hallways, are there unattended vehicles blocking theirs? Where person remains trapped inside, it is not so safe to hinder firefighter access to them.

Ergonomics. Chair with five legs more safe than four, even with rollers (four are more tippable). Needs adjustment for height (arms) and stiffness (back - soft tall lay back not so good for other than nap). Rollers for anything need be maintained (like company car getting a flat), carts should have locking capability for rollers, vehicles like corporate trucks should have wedge available for tire. Where company is not state of art, the older, deeper displays would radiate the unhealthy stuff that could increase one's hair falling out. Not so obvious, the main problem was the rays escaping from the rear. Where workers are at desks facing each other, they are affecting not themselves but each other. Better then to increase distance (desktop size) and placing them at diagonal, not to mention enough wall separation in between to minimize effects of coughing.

When I first heard of carpal tunnel, I was skeptical, for a long time. Then I bore witness to increasing number of coworkers having bandaging devices beginning with wrists. And the answers received when queried was that they'd not been injured during their extracurricular sports activity - they being more vigorously youthful than I. Then my own wrists ....

OK, then, the recommend goes to devising method to maintain both one's hand and arm
near level. In addition to seat adjustment, add that options should include adjustments for KB, mouse and display, the latter should be at eye level, adjustable near and far as well as up and down - and tilt. Consider glare. For the handhelds I've seen use of trays, platforms beneath desk.

For extensions, consider use of our newer 'toys' for handhelds, pads/pods, the blackberry_thumb, and the homelife, not only self but family, even the use of games and remotes. from pong, 'nintendo' (addictions to repetitiveness). Level is better overall. The workplace can be impacted by the homelife and vice versa.

Cabinets. In addition to above, much has been addressed by companies to policy regarding placement of objects. People can place a lot of stuff atop about anything. From pictures to critters to plants to printers, on and on. Consider books and binders, someone's big book falling down on your little toe <ouch>. Often height of surface is addressed by policy (is cabinet 2, 3, 4 or 5 or 6 drawer). Building shakes as truck rolls by,  employees bump into walls, drum on desk (vibrations), my monitor sways.

Health. For goodness of air conditioning, consideration for quality of air is very important but another well hidden hazard. Filtration. For hospital use monitoring ppm is paramount, for work environment more often unmonitored. Even for computer room, even for level of humidity (static -> spark>). Employees go home, Dine with children who were in close quarters with other children. So they get sick. Now company has policy demanding person presence at desk. Discourages absence due to sickess. Employee at own desk coughs. Air circulation brings expelled contaminates to employee at remote end of building. Propagation of fungus, mold, not only pollen. Employee brings home accumulation of bugs, exposing family to ... this facilitates a circle that is self-perpetuating, leads to decrease in productivity, and increase in vulnerability to degrading of health. Unsafe. Now include other particulate matter from within or without building. They not only are inhaled (internal), they adhere to clothing (external),  The type of carpet materials, even for gluing can be hazardous. More especially so for companies that remodel, replace carpets etc (not only asbestos, some building materials may have allergens or even carcinogens. Maybe initially low, but when accumulated..) --- sorry, I cannot underemphasize importance of filtration mechanisms or quality of life. (As I recollect, US EPA had rule about carpeting, rule found ignored when their own carpet replaced. Same for OSHA?) Aside from filtration, consider ever important drinking water. We had contaminations of drinking fountains and water bottles. Regular monitoring recommended prior to accumulation of deaths to be analyzed.

For trip hazards consider scheduling, the unmarked temporary use of a vacuum's cord, the new wiring being done where cables, cords are first laid out down corridor. Their ladders. Workers on rooftops, ladders, painters (indoor the fumes) caulkers, window washer - for the latter, we've see one holding long aluminum pole, pole falling backwards into lines stretched overhead (oops), worker then stretched out on ground, no promptness of stretcher delivery enabling resuscitation. (oh, yeah) Many persons arriving to dwell upon activities.

Slips Consider maintenance of flooring. This may not be that apparent for recent mopping without the posting of signs, Unmarked conditions can include not only stairwells, but carpets that are more than vacuumed, they can have the supplementary of additional value added on to steam-cleaning - some insecticides, cosmetics, flame retardants, even some scents for a VIP visitation.

For out of doors there's the sheet of ice for walkways and parking. Is salt or sand readily available, ability to rope off some areas, company policy for closure (and notification)? Not to mention maintaining set policy for trained staff to cope with issues. Does it matter if parking lot level? I've looked out window to see large delivery truck unable to stop at main entrance, slowly descending towards parked vehicles. Hats off to driver, it stopped within inches of collision. I returned to desk without learning how it then got out (no room to make any turn). (what if person was attempting to walk somewhere in new path of the vehicle - oops)

Have a policy to inform next of kin? Rather, I think more important is policy to retain life. Stress kills.

[Sorry, for length,but I was pessimistic that simple bullets would convey intended meaning, and persons other than asker could benefit]

Inappropriate socializing between team members outside of the office.  Stressful environments can lead to mental illness.

Anecdotal story removed by Moderator 5/5/14
Speed54Sales Representative
Unserviced air conditioning units or faulty ones that aren't doing what they're supposed to, and staff being idiots
Just to make some people happy, I would add few more things to the requested list:
1) Objects which may drop from heights.
yodercom already mentioned in the beginning “Stacked boxes or equipment”, but I remember something else. When we built the company, a part of the factory was finished and started to produce the end products, but some parts from administration still had scaffold around. Whenever we had to go in/out we had to use hard hats, of course not in the office. That applied also when we had to go from administration building to the offices inside the production facility.
2) Sounds.
Going from administration building to the offices inside the factory, which ran with loud noise, we had to use industrial safety year protection. Sometimes the noise from production penetrated the walls of the office inside the plant and was not always easy to focus.
3) Signs and labels.
If the office is placed in the big building, you may be in trouble to find your way around or what you need if things are not marked proper around, especially when you are new. I had one month daily training inside to one of the Siemens facility. There is a like a small town inside and the buildings have many floors, combining administration, managing, engineering and production. I was happy with the good german marking system.
A bad example: when you build a factory, many times your office is a temporary one, mostly an improvisation, a transformed container, but you need network, computers and at that time a fax machine. When you move around the world and the mains do not matches then you use transformers. I remember an improper labeled mini transformer, and therefore wrong settings, which made the fax machine smoking in 5 min after the connection…
4) Communication, language.
As I worked enough years in international companies, I know what bad things may happen when somebody says something and the other understating totally different. Sometimes we had to use the walky-talky stations because at that time the mobile phones were not so popular as today and we did not have to pay for a service. When the noise from production is around, and the people do not speak proper the language then the situation becomes worse.
Here I may give an example which nobody from my colleagues can forget. Even if did not happen in the office, so somehow you may not include it at the office hazards, it is related with the office, language and labels. A young man died in an awful way crushed by 2 big gears, first the hand then the head, because he locked the wrong equipment and misunderstood the meaning of the labels. Even if that was a yard accident, so not in the office, people from the office were partial responsible because the labels were not translated in the local language, because somebody like him was hired on that position without understanding proper the language, a commission with inspection arrived and took measures, changed things around and some people from office had to pay for that.
5) Electromagnetic fields.
I know not all the people agree on this subject, as I already discussed it in the past, but here is my view.
If your office is at the top of the building and you have emission antennas on the roof, I would not feel comfortable. I speak about GSM antennas or radio-TV.
Here is another story based on my experience. It is not in the office, but tells about the effects of electromagnetic fields. Special machinery was installed in the factory. It was a press and an oven in the same time. It worked with high power and high frequency electromagnetic waves as 3.5 MHz and 10KV. When the maintenance team opened the covers under the machinery where the oscillator was placed, having a triode with the same size and power as in radio stations, and a test was done, the fields were so strong that a fluorescent tube kept in the hand at 50cm close to the machinery just lit up as in the experiments with Tesla coils or Star Wars swords. Later I discussed with the man who installed the equipment and worked many years with such machinery. He said, based on his experience, that only women should work as operators to such machinery, and not pregnant. A man will become sexual impotent after some years…
Please do not tell me about the limits from standards and research. I worked couple of years with people who are part of panel groups which makes standards in EU. Not to mention a confirmation from my neighbor that has a doctor degree in bio-chemistry and worked in at least 8 important EU institutes/universities in the last 12 years.

Sorry if you do not like my stories, but everyone has to learn from life and is recommended to not take the ostrich position.

Yeah, right on, speed_54,
Twas a time users would reach up and stuff objects into ducts to reduce A/C chill (1st in line for blast) later observed duct-taping large envelopes more obviously construed to enable undo function. Not too dissimilar the thermostat placement inside manager office (who closes door policy), and other inside closet - hail remodeling efforts. Not too dissimilar at least two new buildings having lengthy hallways leading to .... nowhere / dead end <phew>. Imagine attempting to evacuate where visibility reduced from the effects of smoke. No remodeling plans as yet. <ugh> [politics]. Also consider that all doors should open outward towards exit. While that may be a law, observation has it as incomplete in implementation, and for the 'restrooms' adherence may be gender specific. (so where's the 'wipes? -- hopefully paper towel remains in use, discard after exit)

For another hazard, there's the use of elevator. More than once for both: fire began at motor (unseen to staff), smoke going down shaft; - cable issue where it fell to bottom with person inside. Not so many floors, but it hurts. Recommending both: regular inspections, deny usage during fire. While electrical issue may enclose one for long duration <cough>, many buttons act not on physics of depression but heat of fingers - hence elevator can automatically take one straight to the fire (heat source).

Pre-Y2K had an emphasis on PCBs. These products are big hazard that are contained in old electrical transformers. Post Y2K I dunno on it. May be dependent on age of local constructions, how much new-age is applicable (like issue of asbestos - should be a non-issue, but then again..)

Post 9/11 for building saw increase in attention/deployment of various building barriers to vehicles, greatest near building main entrance/exit. You should by now have seen many occasions where vehicles crash through outer wall of building workplace. (resisting attaching a jpg sample) So then, we had someone somehow traverse long wayward path to hit doorless side of building, tree lined streets. More fences built, more sturdy replacements ordered. More jobs to defend us from the .... idiots.
Top Expert 2013

don't forget earth rays, and water streams in the underground, as well as GSM and other wireless aereals...
Nice try, but let’s turn it in something helpful for number 25112:
1) Speaking about “water streams in the underground”, actually yodercm had the first idea with streams over the head, the “sprinklers”, which if they are bad placed relative to electricity on the room, which sometimes can have a backup system, and something unpleasant happens and the sprinklers start to do their job, then you may end in losing the work, electrical devices in the office or in the worst case to get electrical shocks…
What tragedy, to die in the office, working at PC.
2) Speaking about rays, let’s think at visible rays from the luminaries above your head. If the lamps are bad placed, wrong type or the light is not enough or too much that’s bad for your health.
GSM was already covered in the previous comments :)
Top Expert 2013

Contributors warrant respect whether understood well or not in an international community as well as in the workplace ...

Well said. :-)
Many of the suggestions above may go under the dome: “safety devices which under certain conditions become hazards”, when an unexpected failure happens or the foreseen conditions change dramatically.
The author 25112 did not mention what kind of office are we talking about and therefore many of the suggestions may not apply at all or in a special case additional items may be added to the requested list.
For instance, is it a gun in the drawer a hazard or a safety device? Many CEO’s have one.
Top Expert 2013

One internal one: your mind.

Applies always. Every place at all times under all circumstances. ;-)
But if I understand right the main question, 25112 refers to physical objects, that's why the human nature and social relations, were also not seen as expected answers.
Can we exclude these things and focus only on external objects?
Top Expert 2013

Yes, of course, we knew the object-oriented focus.

But really? One may be angered by some comments, lost in thoughts, and run into a wall or walk through a glass door.  Happens (as) you know. And who has not heard of the greatest work hazard, the dreaded stress?  Workplace (even school) shootings?

One may think they (the mind's tricks) can be excluded, but they cannot be.

Anyways, no harm.  Is there?

But agree it has gone as far as it can go. But even this: who knows?
The forums aim is to help getting answers and one consequence is the brainstorming, which sometimes acts as a multicore processors.

Here is another story.
Few months ago I had a discussion with a friend, plant manager in a factory somewhere on a nice island. Don’t ask names. He told me about his brother, who has a good position in IT working for a certain air plane company and to get in the office he has to pass many security systems. There is a hierarchically supervision system with door locks, cameras, RFID checking points, computer under remote control…everything is related with safety to avoid any information leaking to outside.
Such person, if he wants, can be a good hacker. Of course he will not do things to compromise his position, integrity, job, carrier…, but just to “help” his brother, small things which makes “no harm”, he made easy and fast, as for instance going on main server which provides the internet connection and change the basic account settings for minimum speed to the highest possible speed for that type connection, removing other limits for Amazon account website related with watching movies online…., then he told to his brother: do you think the IT security promoted as image to give you the safety feeling is indeed for real? It is not. It is more the image to make you trust a certain system.
Then I remembered a documentary about those East European hackers who broke the IT security at Pentagon, NASA and some other important servers. If you want to watch it I can search the video link. They made no harm, except that put naked girls on those servers and other stupid things like that, they published the IP of the servers in closed hackers community and everything was done only to boast, to show how good they are. Some of them were traced; security guys from US came around and a deal was made: either to support the consequences or to work for internet security, under supervision, at national level. Of course they accepted the second proposal…and later even other important companies offered them jobs with important revenues, in the range of 250K USD/year, but some refused for different reasons. Important part is what they said about the security in IT, after they change the sides.
First, they were absolutely aware of the IT security war in the world and one of them mentioned that next world war has big chances to be started by people with good hackers behind. Even if the main controlling digital systems of the rockets have no contact with the external world, somebody will make a mistake once, the human error, and is enough for a smart guy to get the control, to place a virus, whatever…They actually said: if we did it and we have no IT university degree, just that we spent enough time to learn the hacking tools, then others can do it even better than us with more knowledge and better tools.
The second thing that remained in my mind was supervising of the traffic on certain international points. They mentioned that are groups with expensive equipment, very fast and that’s why hard to track. These groups have very high speed internet connections and copy data in very high volumes from different servers during the last years, which is not a good sign.
I will stop here with this subject.

I just wanted to point that your main toll in the office, your PC, may be a hazard object, if contains important data which may be an interesting subject to the hackers.
Top Expert 2013

With "Anyways, no harm.  Is there?" I meant: There is no harm in talking about mental aspects also rather than focusing solely on "external objects."

Sorry, I didn't make it clearer.  :-(
I know you would like it, but I am not so sure about the others.
Besides, you may risk a yellow card and I, a red one :), don’t forget the uncle Sam is watching us :)
In exchange I propose a different approach, good for all participants and especially for the author of the question.
Providing little information is as worse as providing too much information. Too much information generates confusion and you have to put additional effort in filtering.
I hope the answers so far provided enough information to make the requested list with office hazards, but why not helping 25112 filtering the information by answering the next logical question that the author should put: what things in the office are not hazards?
Nevertheless, let’s then make the last suggestions to the office hazards:
1) Violence.
Sometimes angry customers or even colleagues may hurt you.
2) Sick buildings
Use plants to clean the air: 
3) Toilets Hygiene
Well, you can list hazards and there can be a long list.
But, are you and the others in the office ready for a hazard?
Does everyone know the ways to exit the building in case of a fire, either by the windows or the stairways, etc. Will the elevators be working in case of an electrical outage?
The cause could be a fire, a storm, etc.
In case of someone who gets sick or injured in the office how quickly can you get the person down to the emergency vehicle or how fast can the emergency crews get to the person who needs medical help?
Be prepared for events caused by the hazards.

That's well said, nickg!   As a long time EMT on an ambulance squad, I can assure you that getting to a victim quickly can be a real mess in a large or chaotic environment like an office building.  

Normally it's best if you don't try to move the victim "down to the emergency vehicle", let the ambulance crew do that.

Provided there is no safety issue for anyone else, it is far better to have someone go down, meet the ambulance in an obvious place (wave them down if necessary), and guide them directly to the victim.   That is the most efficient and safest way to get help.
Nice job WhackAMod.
One thing I know for sure: you enjoyed some stories before deleting them... :))


thanks all.. I have a thesis (research) level info to be careful. THANKS all, again!!!

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