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The Necessity of a Clean Desk

When you hear somebody mention a “clean desk,” what do you think of first? Does a clean desk refer to a neat and tidy-looking desk? Could a clean desk refer to a desk that exposes no confidential information on it? Let’s examine what constitutes a clean desk and why it is important for you to always maintain a clean desk.


The word “clean” can denote the opposite of filth, dirt or clutter but it can also denote the opposite of exposing private/confidential information. Both uses of the word play a role in insurance risk.

Security Breach Risk: A desk with nothing more than a 3×5-inch notecard containing a username/password on its surface can be considered an unclean desk. Even usernames/passwords written on the side of a desk drawer is certainly considered an unclean desk. If you expose any confidential information on or around your desk, you are putting your employer at a security breach risk that can result in a business loss.

  • Never write usernames/passwords on papers or desk surfaces. Keep your desk clear and clean of system login and other confidential information.
  • Keep all exposed non-public information within your sight and lock this information inside a desk drawer when you step away from your workstation.

Accident Risk: Once your desk becomes cluttered with stacks of paper, you can put yourself or co-workers at risk to injuries. Having paper mounds can lead to the unexpected “landslide effect” of loose materials falling to the floor and creating a slip/fall hazard. Placing items under your desk can trip up your feet when you stand up. Placing items around your chair can hinder your chair’s range of movement, which may affect the safe ergonomic design of your workstation.

  • Avoid piles of paper on your desk. Use lockable file cabinets or your lockable desk drawers as an alternative location for papers that would otherwise set on top of your desk. An alternative to file cabinet storage could be scanner/electronic file storage. Be sure to use your paper shredder or wastebasket often to rid your work area of paper that would otherwise accumulate into piles on your desk.
  • Practice neatness and orderliness with anything on or around your desk.
  • Avoid storing items under your desk where you place your feet. You can tangle your feet and lose your balance when you stand up.
  • Never place items on the floor around your chair. Doing this can interfere with your chair’s movement, causing you to take a “shortcut” with your chair and strike an adjacent object or otherwise work in a non-ergonomic position, resulting in a musculoskeletal injury.

Fire/Property Loss Risk: Stacks and piles of paper set on a desk can be viewed as a Class A fire risk. A Class A fire involves ordinary combustibles as the fuel source.

  • Avoid having large quantities of paper or other ordinary combustibles on your desk so you can minimize the fuel source for a potential Class A fire.

Health Risk: Chemicals such as cleaning supplies, along with medicines, can become a health risk to students or staff. Dust mites, mold and bacteria can get you sick.

  • Return cleaning chemicals or disinfectants to their designated storage locations after use. Do not store these items continuously at your desk.
  • Keep personal medicines locked inside your desk drawers so nobody else can access them.
  • Keep your desk/workstation physically clean. Do not permit dust mites, mold or bacteria to exist.

Ergonomic Risk: Placing paper piles, office tools or miscellaneous items such as picture frames on your desk can reduce the workspace necessary to maintain a safe ergonomic layout. This can turn your safe, ergonomically designed workstation into a workstation where you have to sacrifice your computer layout to compensate for the excess clutter. As a result, you could suffer a musculoskeletal strain disorder. For more information on workstation ergonomics, see the Spring 2017 Risk Manager article titled “Computer and Workstation Ergonomics: Avoiding Eye, Neck and Back Strain.”

  • If you have to change your work practice to compensate for your desk clutter, then you are working dangerously. Keep a clutter-free desk so you can retain a safe, ergonomically designed workstation.

Now that you know what a clean desk is and how a clean desk can impact you and your employer’s insurance risk, take time today to evaluate your desk to determine how clean it is. You may find the need to make some changes to achieve a clean desk.

CM Regent Solutions

CM Regent Solutions provides a variety of employee benefit products and third-party claims administration services. Our consultative approach ensures our services fit our customers' needs, including: Group Life Insurance, Disability, Dental, Vision and COBRA.

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