Maintaining Office Equipment Prevents Injury (and Limits Claim Exposures)

When the term “office equipment” comes to mind, items such as a copier or fax machine are the first things considered. Adding toner or extra paper to these is a simple task, and when a more serious malfunction occurs, a reputable service company is called in to make repairs. But the scope of items considered “office equipment” is wide and varied, and these items often require maintenance.

This newsletter’s claim features a desk chair, a common piece of equipment used by many throughout the workday that is often neglected until “something” happens.

The injured employee –ironically, a Maintenance Supervisor– arrived to work early one morning. None of his staff had arrived yet and he was in the process of reviewing his email. The employee stated that he leaned back in the office chair provided for him and the chair broke. He tipped over and landed on his back. The account of the incident he provided was simple enough. He claimed the chair was roughly two to four years old.

Following the report of this incident, the employer kept the chair for inspection. As the employee was unable to determine the exact age or manufacturer, Loss Control was asked to photograph and document the chair for possible subrogation.

The chair was estimated to be much older than what the employee had indicated and there were no identifiable marks that could identify the manufacturer.

BACKGROUND INVESTIGATION: When the claim was reported, the investigator was advised that the employee had been under disciplinary action. A few other “red flags” were noted in the initial claim investigation, further complicating the issue. The incident occurred early in the morning when there were no witnesses. There were no surveillance cameras to document if the incident had occurred as described by the employee. In addition, he immediately requested treatment from a local physician with a reputation of being quite liberal with treatment and reluctant to return employees to work in any capacity. Shortly after the claim was accepted as compensable, the injured worker secured the services of counsel.

The claim has recently gone into litigation. Fortunately, this does offer an opportunity to delve deeper into the case by way of legal discovery. However, regular inspection of the chair may have prevented this incident from ever occurring. In the photographs provided, there is evidence the chair broke as described. Some rust was noted on the metal of the base support, indicating a prior issue and an age greater than what was indicated.

If the employer had recorded the date of purchase and the manufacturer of the chair, that documentation may have also provided access to recovery from a responsible party– assuming there was a provable malfunction or defect. Regular inspection of equipment should also be noted and logged, going a long way towards preventing and/or limiting future claim exposures.

The inspection of office furniture, fixtures and equipment should be a part of a documented safety inspection conducted on at least an annual basis. The purpose of this inspection is to identify damaged, broken or ineffective equipment for repair or replacement. Conducting these inspections can help prevent staff injuries.

The following items should be inspected to ensure they are safe for use:

  • Office chairs, stools, step stools, step ladders, carts (inspect casters, armrests, framing, ladder rungs)
  • Storage racks and shelving (cracks, broken shelving, overloaded shelves, leaning)
  • Light fixtures (light covers, shatter-proof bulbs for uncovered fixtures, fixture properly secured to ceiling)
  • Wires (properly routed out of traffic path, neatly wrapped, broken plugs, frayed cords)
  • Electrical outlets (properly covered and not broken, cracked or burnt)
  • Desks, credenzas, file cabinets (stable with no loose legs, cabinet drawers open easily, not overloaded)
  • Wall hangings, blinds (secured in place)
  • Bathroom fixtures (sinks, mirrors, towel dispensers properly secured)
  • Personal appliances (heaters, microwaves, toasters) should be inspected before use by qualified personnel.

Items identified during the safety inspection should be repaired promptly or removed from service, and placed in a limited access area until repaired or replaced.

A safe office environment is critical in avoiding staff injuries and improving morale.

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