Using office equipment safely

This guidance can help employers eliminate or reduce and control risks from the use of general office equipment.

Health and safety risks

Using common office equipment can cause health and safety risks ranging from musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) to stabbing injuries. Consider the following information for a range of office equipment.

Staplers

Staplers are designed to be used on a bench. With occasional use they should not present a hazard. If thick documents are to be stapled, a stapler appropriate for the task should be used to reduce the need for high levels of force to perform the task. Using a stapler repeatedly for a prolonged period of time may tire some people. This is more likely if they perform the task while seated or if the table or bench is at an unsuitable height, requiring them to elevate their shoulders. Benches where staplers are used often have cupboards underneath which don’t allow a person’s knees or feet enough space, especially when sitting. High use of a stapler may also result in excessive compression forces to the palm of the hand.

Employees should use electric staplers where stapling is frequently required for prolonged periods. The design of an electric stapler should guard against fingers being injured during use and safe work procedures should be implemented.

If using a stapler is assessed as a risk, employers should consider control options such as the use of alternative attachment devices. Alternatives include, for example, binding or bulldog clips, or providing a larger manual stapler or an electric stapler.

Staple removers

For occasional removal of staples, a small pincer-type staple remover is commonly used in the office. Where this task is identified as a risk, such as highly repetitive staple removing, employers should provide a lever-operated device.

Employees should avoid removing staples by hand. To control the risks associated with removing staples, such as stabbing injuries, some large organisations ask customers to return documents unstapled. Employers should also consider providing alternate binding mechanisms.

Letter openers

The use of letter openers usually does not present a problem in offices until the level of use increases beyond processing personal mail. The slim handle of a knife-like letter opener can be difficult to grasp. A larger handle enables a more solid grip. Repeated handling of mail and the forceful movement required to open mail can be avoided by the use of mechanical letter openers.

Hole punches

A range of hole punches is available, from small lever-operated to large electric drill types. Hole punches and their use should match the thickness of the documents being processed. Longer lever arms on manual punches enable users to punch thick documents without using high levels of force. Many photocopiers have a hole-punching function. Because of the forceful nature of hole punching it is preferable to use hole punches at a standing-height bench.

Pens and writing tools

Despite the major office tool being the keyboard, a wide range of writing tasks exist in the office. The standard ballpoint pen is suitable for infrequent general use, however easy-ink-flow pens usually require less force to grip and write. A thick-grip pen or a triangular attachment to the pen can reduce the overall force required to grip the pen.

Writing for prolonged periods may result in hand or forearm soreness. If this occurs, these periods may need to be reduced or interspersed with other activities.

Wrist or forearm keyboard rests

Wrist or forearm rests are part of some keyboard designs or provided to support the forearm during pauses in typing and keyboard tasks. In practice, however, people often use the rest while typing, causing the fingers to reach to the keys rather than the whole arm generating the movement. Typing with wrists on rest devices may cause strain of the muscles and tendons at the wrist. The use of a wrist rest also places the keyboard further away from the user, which can increase sustained load on the shoulders and cause discomfort or muscular strain. Wrist rests should not be required if a workstation has been adjusted to meet the needs of the user.

Document holders

Reading source documents resting on the surface of the desk for prolonged periods may cause neck and shoulder strains through the adoption of poor posture. Document holders are designed to hold reference material so it can be positioned according to the user's visual needs.

Upright movable document holders can be positioned next to the screen at the same height and visual distance from the user. A-frame or flat document holders can be positioned between the screen and keyboard to support multiple or bulky papers. A-frames need sufficient adjustment to raise, lower and angle documents to accommodate different screen heights.

Voice recognition software

Voice recognition transfers voice information to an electronic format. This technology has limited application at present, but if the voice becomes one of the major means of entering and controlling computer data, then reliance on the keyboard for input will reduce.

Software programs for office OHS

There are a number of software products on the market aiming to improve safety in the office. For example, there are screen savers which prompt rest breaks or promote good working postures or exercises, programs for assessing or improving workstations and various checklists and user surveys for assessing occupational health and safety (OHS) in the office. A poorly designed program may interrupt work and raise the user’s annoyance levels. It is important to trial programs in your own organisation before buying to ensure the software will meet your needs.

Equipment checklist

Check that risks from the use of equipment are controlled as far as practicable, including:

        Your legal duties

        The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

        Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

        Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The Risk Management Approach to Health and Safety.