Safety In The 21st Century Office

By Evangeline Majawat

The diminutive man smiled kindly before his expression turned solemn. “The modern workplace — the office — is a hazardous place! Spending long hours sitting in the same position takes its toll on the body but people simply brush the pain off and hope it goes away,” declares the chatty Hadie Affendie Hamdan, a sports therapist. “Well, most times it doesn’t.”

Hadie is also managing director for Sports Care Plus. His centre is housed in a small corner within the Likas Stadium in Kota Kinabalu. It is here, in this small but cheerfully decorated location, that Hadie sees his patients. “All sorts of people come in here. They are here because they are injured either from sports or at work,” he explains.

Sitting at a desk, in an uncomfortable posture while staring at the computer causes muscle and joint stiffness that can lead to many other problems. Increased dependency on computers is also causing repetitive strain injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome — both of which can cause excruciating pain. “Muscle and joint aches might sound trivial. You may rest for a day or two and think you’ve recovered but unless you change your sitting position, the number of hours you work or change your job altogether, the injury usually gets worse,” Hadie explains. He adds that repetitive strain injury and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome can cause long-term damage, which might be irreversible.

Work-related injuries affect one’s efficiency, cause a steep drop in productivity and can result in a major loss of income for businesses. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) fall under the purview of the Ministry of Human Resource. Both organizations have repeatedly sounded the alarm for occupational safety in Malaysian workplaces.

The Department of Occupational Health and Safety (DOSH) works to put into effect the administration and enforcement of legislations related to occupational safety and health in Malaysia by carrying out activities such as approval and authorisation, registration, certification, inspection, investigation and also litigation. The agency’s vision is to lead the nation in creating a safe and healthy work culture that enhances the overall quality of a person’s working life.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) was set up to monitor and help industries create a safe workplace and environment. They actively do so by providing training, consultation, communication and even research and development. NIOSH chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye often reminds Malaysian employers to create a safe and healthy workplace for their staff. Lee has been quoted as saying that local employers are becoming more conscious about occupational health and safety in the workplace but more can still be done to promote it.

Companies can refer to the Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health in the Office to create a safe, healthy workplace that considers the welfare of each and every employee. Some of the categories highlighted in the guidelines include keyboard equipment, rest breaks and exercises, safety in the office and working environment and health.

Jeremiah Paul considers himself lucky because his employers are extremely conscious and concerned about safety at the workplace. As an IT engineer in one of the multinational oil and gas companies, every aspect of safety is taken into account. The furniture in the office are ergonomically designed and there is a well-equipped gym complete with personal trainers to help with staff stay safe while exercising. Employees are also strictly monitored for work-related injuries.

“I see my friends working in local companies and see the difference in culture. My company is so into safety that sometimes it can even feel like it is all too much. But then there is very little work-related injury here so they must be doing something right!” he laughs.

Sports therapist Hadie says there are warning signs that office workers should look out for — specifically those who spend many hours in front of a computer screen. These signs include tingling in the fingers, numbness, headaches and pain in the joints or when carrying out a task. “See a doctor even if the pain or discomfort is bearable. Also, try to pay close attention to your position and posture when you’re at your desk and make sure that you are properly supported and comfortable,” he advises.

Act outlines employer’s responsibility to make workplace safe

All employers in Malaysia have a duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees. This is clearly spelled out in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, a legal framework that secures the safety, health and welfare of all Malaysians in the workforce.

The Act also protects the public against risks to safety and health that is related to activities carried out during work. Among the key objectives of Occupational Safety and Health Act when it was passed in 1994 were to

  • Promote safety and health at the workplace
  • Establish a safety organisation and management at the workplace
  • Create a healthy and safe working culture in Malaysia

Not many people are aware that an occupational safety and health worker has the right to inspect any workplace and residential area, with the owner’s consent, if he or she suspects the employer or the workplace to be unsafe.

You can find the full Guidelines on the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1994, the Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health in the Office, and numerous other relevant documents in the guidelines subsection of the legislation tab in the DOSH website at www.dosh.gov.my

Avoid occupational hazards in your office with these tips

  • Take regular breaks
  • Stretch those cramped muscles during the breaks. Simple exercises will do wonders
  • Exercise more to reduce your overall stress and also strengthen your muscles
  • See a doctor or physiotherapist immediately if you suspect an injury. Don’t leave it until the pain worsens as it will take longer to heal and the damage could be permanent
  • Lookout for symptoms such as headaches and sudden sharp pain, numbness and tingling sensations in your arms, back or other parts of your body.
  • Improve your posture. Don’t hunch over the computer
  • Know and follow your employer’s health and safety guidelines
  • If you don’t know how to do something safely, request for training from your employers
  • Correct unsafe conditions and report them to your supervisor
  • Report any injury to the management immediately

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