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Just How Safe is Your Work Area

Hear the word “safety” and you quickly think of industrial accidents and a variety of well-publicized workplace disasters, or perhaps OSHA is the first thing that comes to mind. Yet the great majority of injuries and accidents are much less visible—and they certainly don’t get the amount of publicity or media attention that some others receive. These smaller accidents occur day in and day out, in offices, shops and job sites around the nation—in work areas just like yours.



Just how safe is your work area? What physical features and equipment might pose health and safety problems to you and your visitors? What precautions can you take to ensure that your work area is comfortable and safe?



While every workplace requires unique safety features and precautions, this handy question-and-answer checklist can help you address these all-important safety concerns. A wrong answer to any of the questions on the checklist may indicate a potential safety risk. In general, you’ll intuitively know what the correct answer is, but in some cases, we have added a helpful hint or two. And keep in mind that these questions to apply to all your work locations, whether it’s your corporate headquarters or jobsite trailer-office.



Are cords or plugs draped across any open space on the floor? (If you answered “yes,” a tripping risk has been created. Either move the cords out of the way, or cover the with a rubber strip or electrical tape.)



Are numerous appliances or equipment items plugged into the same socket or extension cord? (If you answered “yes” again, you’ve got a potential electrical hazard or fire waiting to happen. At a minimum, use a surge suppressor, but it’s best to unplug items that are not in constant use.)



Are the cords of power tools or appliances exposed?



Is machinery properly grounded?



Have you placed reinforced “guards” on the rear of file cabinets and other furniture that can easily “tip” when drawers are open?



Are hot or toxic surfaces clearly marked? (This includes your coffee maker and other small kitchen appliances.)



Are your chairs, tables and desks engineered for safe and comfortable use?



Are ladders, docks, platforms and climbing equipment sturdy?



Are guards and safety devices present on all machinery?



Does your work area contain one or more smoke detectors, and do you periodically check the condition of the batteries in the smoke detectors? (The National Fire Protection Association recommends testing your smoke detectors once a month, cleaning them regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and replacing the units once they are 10 years old.)



Are your fire extinguishers inspected regularly?



Are you thoroughly familiar with emergency exits you’d use in the event of fire? If your work area is on an upper level, are you familiar with escape procedures through your windows?



If you have a sprinkler system, is it regularly inspected?



Do you use space heaters in your workplace? If so, have you taken fire safety and ventilation precautions against overheating?



Do you store or use flammable liquids? If so, have you taken precautions against fire and explosion?



Do you use liquid office products in well-ventilated areas?



Have you made a thorough inventory of potential air contaminants, and instituted precautions and safety procedures involving their use?
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Safe Work Area,
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Have you checked your ceilings and insulation for the presence of asbestos? If so, do you meet mandated or suggested standards for asbestos safety?



Are your work areas well-ventilated?



Do you limit smoking to limited spaces within your work area or building?



Have you conducted a “noise” audit recently? Do you regularly monitor your work area for the presence of sound above a safe threshold?



Are your stairs in a state of good repair, with no loose or ill-footing boards?



Do you place safety mats or “caution” signs near slippery or waxed floors?



Is your carpeting securely attached to the floor?



Are your corridors, closets and exterior exits well-illuminated? Do you regularly check these areas for broken or burnt-out bulbs?



Are first aid supplies conveniently and centrally located within your work area?
Are special articles of clothing, masks, plugs, hard hats, respiratory devices and protective wear available for individuals handling potentially harmful or toxic substances?



Are all employees familiar with emergency procedures?



Do you periodically review workplace accidents, and conduct a “hazard analysis” to prevent future accidents and safety problems?



Take action now to correct any inefficiencies and deficiencies that may be in your work areas. Consult with an industrial safety expert, your own workplace safety committee or a nearby contractor to institute accident prevention measures. Remember: Prevention can save you significant expenses over the long term. More important, it can increase the comfort and productivity of the people responsible for your success—your employees.



About the Author

Richard G. Ensman Jr. is a syndicated free-lance writer based in Rochester, N.Y.

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