Use space to open navigation items


Most offices will have shelving of some sort, whether it be in cupboards or free standing. Quite often the top shelf is above head height.


  • Avoid overloading shelves.
  • Don’t climb shelves to reach the top.
  • Ensure heavy items are accessible.

Potential harm

  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Hit by an object
  • Musculoskeletal disorders

Identified hazards and controls

Free standing shelves


  • Reaching above the head or climbing on lower shelves to reach documents stored on the upper shelf.
  • Shelving is unstable.
  • Shelves tip over, often because items are incorrectly stored or heavy items are placed on the upper shelves.
  • Lifting heavy items using an incorrect technique.

What workers can do

  • Use a step stool or ladder to reach higher objects out of reach.
  • Use a proper lifting technique when retrieving items from low shelves. Get help if the item is heavy.
  • Don’t stack items on top of others where people are not able to see the stacked item.
  • If the shelves are bowing or bending in the middle, they probably already have too much weight on them so don’t add any more.

What employers can do

  • Secure freestanding shelving to a wall to prevent toppling over.
  • Limit the height of freestanding shelving bays to allow the worker to reach the top shelf while standing normally.
  • Label shelves to identify heavier items that should be placed at a height that minimises the demands of manual handling, between knee and knuckle height.
  • Supply fit-for-purpose equipment suited to the actual task being performed.
  • Decide if a lifting device needs to be provided.

More information




Page last reviewed: 15 December 2019

Comcare (Office Safety tool)
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 |

Date printed 02 Mar 2024