It’s true: compared with many other working environments, offices are low risk. But this can lead to a false sense of security that nothing needs to be done because nothing can go wrong. Avoid this pitfall by following our practical guide: it will help ensure you’ve put all the right control measures in place to keep your offices safe – in fact, as well as in theory.
1. Prevent Dangerous Slips, Trips and Falls
Slips and trips, leading to ‘falls on the level’, coupled with ‘falls from height’, are the leading cause of serious injury in all workplaces including offices.
To prevent these accidents, keep floors, aisles and gangways clear of slip and trip hazards. Clear up spills promptly and don’t tolerate trailing cables: get more sockets, longer leads or at least run wires through rubber cable covers so as to minimise the trip risk. Encourage team members to put belongings such as bags and coats where no one can trip over them, to keep drawers closed except when in actual use, and to wear sensible shoes: no flip flops or really high heels.
2. Face Up to Stress
Nationally, stress ranks alongside back pain as one of the top two causes of lost-time due to sickness, with a staggering 11.7 million working days being lost to stress, depression and anxiety in 2015/16. To manage stress effectively, apply the action points below:
6 Tips to Minimise Office Stress
- Check a stress risk assessment’s been done and that all individuals have clear roles/responsibilities.
- Give consistent messages about what is important so that people can set priorities within their workload. If everything’s a priority, nothing is.
- Review performance regularly (an annual performance appraisal is good but most people need more frequent feedback and guidance to perform at their best).
- Set policies on bullying and harassment and have a formal system for dealing with grievances.
- Recognise that too little pressure can be stressful as well as too much, so give people greater responsibility as soon as they are ready for it.
- Offer support when stress issues arise, for example, by referring employees to confidential helplines.
3. Avoid Possible Health Harm from Computer Use
Almost every office worker is also a computer user. Screen use is undoubtedly visually-demanding, so if users experience eye strain, that’s a warning they should get their eyes examined, and that they may need glasses or contact lenses. You will be acting correctly if you: (1) offer employees free eye checks; (2) allow users to take breaks from intensive computer use; and (3) advise anyone who experiences eye strain to refer to their optician or GP.
Correct workstation set-up is the key to avoiding back, neck and upper limb pain. Poor posture coupled with incorrect set-up of the workstation can cause all these, or make them worse. Ask users to do a workstation assessment using the checklist at www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck1.htm. Then deal with any action points that arise.
4. Minimise Strain Danger when Lifting and Carrying
Even in the office, there may be significant manual handling (lifting and carrying of loads) and it’s of special concern because back and muscle problems are, along with work-related stress, the leading cause of sickness absence. The golden rules are to use mechanical aids (for example, lifts and trolleys) wherever possible and ensure office staff use a safe technique when lifting/carrying. Follow the 5 practical tips set out in the table below:
5 Tips for Safe Lifting and Carrying in the Office
- Store heavy objects at waist height: lifting them from very high or very low level introduces extra strain – and injury potential.
- Lift from the right starting position: when the load is on the floor, start from a stable semi-squatting posture that enables you to stay balanced, lift with the legs and keep the load as close as possible to your body.
- Lift with the right muscles: use the strong leg muscles to power the lift.
- Flex (slightly bend) your legs before taking up the load: your legs can’t straighten if they are straight to start with.
- Keep the load close: because of leverage, the further away from your body you carry a load, the more strain it will impose. Never lift and twist: it imposes extra strain on the ligaments, back and muscles (move the feet instead).
5. Reduce Your Office Fire Risk to a Very Low Level
First, work out how fire could start, for example: arson, faulty electrical equipment and smoking in unauthorised places. Then check your current control measures: first, those to prevent fire (e.g. good electrical maintenance) and then those that minimise the consequences (e.g. smoke/heat detectors, alarms, extinguishers, sprinklers, escape routes and evacuation procedures).
Under the 2005 Fire Safety Order, employers should appoint people to act as fire wardens. They should make sure any evacuation has been successful and that no one is left unaccounted for. The numbers needed will depend on your own particular circumstances, but one per department or floor is a good starting point. When you carry out fire drills (at least one per year is recommended) time them to check everyone can get out in less than two minutes.