Lessons Learned (from incidents & accidents)

Office Safety and Hazards

Incident:  File cabinet hazard due to soft carpet
Recently a five drawer lateral file cabinet on a new carpet with a thick undercushion, tipped forward and fell onto a desk narrowly missing the office occupant.  He was scraped on his side and the cabinet crushed the arm on chair on which he had been seated (photo 1) 

             Photo 1 Shows cabinet which tipped over on chair and desk

Recommendation for Office Safety 
To control any type of accident, hazards must be eliminated and exposures reduced. Ideally, offices should be safe as well as efficient and convenient. The following are recommendations for improving office safety.

    1. File Cabinets & Shelves
    File cabinets are a common source of injuries. File drawers should not open to narrow aisles. Do not place cabinets next to doors. File drawers should be kept closed when not removing or replacing materials. Don't store heavy materials on top of cabinets. 

    High cabinets (photo2) may need to be fastened to a wall, the floor, or bolted together. High shelving units (photo 3) can also be a tipping hazard and should be checked for stability.   Unsecured cabinets have fallen over, blocking doors and damaging furniture.  A full top drawer with empty or partially filled bottom drawers can cause the cabinet to tip over. 

    Also new cushy carpeting may allow the cabinets to tilt slightly forward when the upper drawer is opened and allow a normally stable unit to tip over.  Also the better cabinet units will not allow more than one drawer to be open at a time to minimize the possiblity of tipping.  If you have tall cabinet units that can easily be swayed (tilted) due to soft flooring or if the units allow more than one drawer to open at a time, then EH&S recommends that they be fastened to prevent them from tipping over.

    Photo 2  Lateral Cabinet                                  Photo 3 High shelving

    2. Aisles
    Aisles through work areas should be unobstructed. Wastebaskets should be placed where people will not accidentally trip over them. Obstructions, including electrical cords, should be placed against walls or partitions, under desks, or in corners. Worn or warped mats under chairs should be replaced. Rubber or plastic rain mats should be replaced when torn or when the edges are curled. 

    3. Extension Cords
    Use of electric extension cords should be avoided if at all possible. Extension cords are designed for temporary use only, meaning they cannot replace permanent wiring for equipment. Cords should be kept out of aisles, and if cords must cross the floor, they need to be covered with rubber mats designed for this purpose. 

    Similarly surge protectors are often incorrectly used as extension cords and are very frequently overloaded electrically. Surge protector are designed for low amperage use for computers, monitors, and similar electronic devices. They are not to be used for high amperage units, such as coffee makers, heaters, refrigerators, etc.  They are to be plugged directly into a wall or floor outlet, i.e. not daisy chained to another surge protector or extension cord. For more guidance on the proper selection and use of extension cords, see the safety section on extension cord & surge units

    4. Electrical Appliances
    Electrical appliances need to be maintained and regularly inspected for defects. Only U.L.-listed appliances are acceptable. Frequent removal of plugs from electrical outlets reduces the life expectancy of the cord. Appliances should have power switches so that the plugs do not need to be removed to shut off power. Portable space heaters are to be kept clear of paper stacks and other combustible materials. Open halogen lamps are not permitted in office and general building areas (NMSU Fire Dept Policy).

    5. Office Equipment
    Office equipment should not be placed near the edge of tables or desks. Heavy equipment, including computers and monitors, should be secured to prevent it from falling over. Heavy or awkward loads should be moved by at least two individuals. Don't attempt to move furniture alone. Use stepstools or stepladders instead of chairs to reach high shelves (see ladder safety). Electrical appliances, including paper shredders and electric typewriters, need to be grounded or double insulated

Departments management and supervisors are responsible for providing ensuring a safe working environment (see NMSU EH&S Policy).   Work orders to fasten or secure cabinets and shelving should be addressed to the OFS work order desk at 646-7114 or via the work order web system at http://www.ppd.nmsu.edu

Thank you

David Shearer

November 2006