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How To Work Safely In Your Home Office

Mar 3, 2008
Carl thought working from home would be a piece of cake. He was good at his job, he had clearly defined objectives, and he had a budget to purchase the resources he needed.

What he didn't realize - until several harrowing and painful incidents later - was that besides being an efficient investment manager, he also needed to be to an electrician, carpenter, fireman, nurse, ergonomics expert, physical therapist, and fitness instructor.

Carl learned a lot about managing risk while working at home, and much of his education had nothing to do with financial management.

Tens of millions of Americans do some office work from their homes.

While neck, back and arm injuries from chairs or keyboards are the most obvious dangers when working from home, problems like strained power outlets, bad lighting that can lead to eye damage, high shelves overloaded with supplies, and unsecured file cabinets also pose risk.

Create A Safe Environment

* Don't run extension cords across the floor. Keep cords out of foot traffic, but don't put them under rugs or the feet of furniture. Use cord covers.

* Replace extension cords with power strips that have surge protectors. Heavy power users, such as air conditioning units, need their own circuits.

* To remove stray cords, move desks closer to power outlets and phone jacks. You can also install new outlets.

* Tape or tack down floor coverings and carpeting that present tripping hazards.

* Avoid fires by not using cooking devices, space heaters or candles. Don't smoke.

* Keep an "ABC" fire extinguisher handy in the room, and know how to use it.

* Don't stack cabinets with binders and heavy books.

* Close any drawers not in use, and open only one drawer at a time. You're asking for trouble by opening the top drawer of a file cabinet all the way.

* Working at home you may have pets and children's toys lying around. Put all toys away when they are not in use.

At The Work Station

* The Prevent Blindness America organization recommends positioning the monitor 20 to 26 inches from your eyes. The top of the monitor should be at least 15 degrees below eye level with a backward tilt. This eases strain on the neck and reduces the exposed surface area of your eyes.

* Use a screen that swivels or tilts, and has contrast and brightness controls. Modify the lighting or screen location to eliminate glare or harsh reflections.

* Use safe and correct posture when sitting down.

* Get an adjustable chair that allows you make all adjustments while seated, including seat height, seat tension, chair back, and moveable arm rests. This allows you to position yourself at a proper angle and distance from the screen.

* A proper chair should allow you to place your feet firmly on a support surface to provide stability for the seated posture and adequate lower leg support. If your feet aren't planted firmly on the floor, use a foot rest.

* The most important area for back support is the lower back. If you don't feel your chair gives you the necessary support in that area, try to position a pillow or a wrapped up towel in the curve of your lower back.

* Look for a chair with a five-prong base, since chairs with four-prong bases tend to tip over more.

* When using a keyboard, your elbow angle should be at 90 degrees, and your wrists should be flat.

* Place the mouse close to your body to minimize the motion of reaching out and away.

* Consider buying special glasses for monitor work.

Maintain Your Personal Resources

* Vary your routine. Try to take a few minutes every hour or so to organize materials, file, or do some different task.

* If you use a keyboard constantly, frequent breaks to stretch, stand up and rest your eyes are important. For example, take a 30 second break after each 10 minutes of intense typing. Periodic breaks of 10 or 15 minutes also keep you fresh.

* Change positions often, so that your hands and wrists aren't kept in the same place for long periods of time.

* If you have to lift heavy boxes or file cabinets, get help or use a hand-held cart. Also, don't store heavy boxes in high places.

* When typing or working from notes, put documents or books at eye level close to the screen.

* Headsets are superior to hand-held receivers. If you don't have a headset, avoid straining your neck to keep the handset balanced on your shoulder.
About the Author
John Myre is the author of the award-winning book, Live Safely in a Dangerous World, and the publisher of the Safety Times Reproducible Articles..
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