Created in 1970, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, provides oversight and ensures American workers have access to a safe and healthy workplace. OSHA regulations are relevant in a variety of work settings, from industrial and construction zones to shipyards and marine terminals. While these are the most obvious locations where workplace hazards exist, it is essential for employers to recognize that OSHA regulations that apply to dangerous working conditions also apply to the seemingly innocuous office work space.
Office workspaces typically include computer workstations. The OSHA website offers specific suggestions for improving the health and safety of workers in an office workspace. For example, it is essential to place computer workstations to avoid glare caused by lamps, overhead lights and natural light from windows. Long-term exposure to computer screen glare can lead to a variety of health problems ranging from simple discomfort to what the American Optometric Association refers to as “computer vision syndrome.”
Air quality is a common concern in office workspaces as workers tend to be in a small area where air may stagnate. A variety of factors affect air quality in an office workspace. Proper ventilation and air circulation, as well as temperature and humidity control all have the potential to impact worker health and safety. According to the OSHA website, office conditions must provide proper ventilation to ensure access to adequate levels of fresh air. Additionally, planners should place office furniture to avoid exposing workers to the continuous “dumping” of extreme hot or cold air in one spot.
OSHA requires that employers maintain Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDS, on all hazardous materials employees may come into contact with in the workplace. MSDS must include information regarding the proper handling and cleanup of hazardous materials; this includes hazardous office supplies such as white out and cleaning supplies commonly used in an office workspace. Workers may also risk exposure to noxious chemicals and ozone emitted by computers, laser printers and other peripheral equipment. All of these hazardous materials are subject to OSHA regulations.
The OSHA website also offers specific guidelines for working positions designed to prevent muscle strain and musculoskeletal disorders commonly associated with office work. OSHA recommends that workers who work in a seated position for long periods should attempt to maintain a neutral position to avoid these health and safety issues. For example, you should arrange an office chair so the worker’s shoulders remain in a relaxed position and arms fall naturally to the side of the body.