IndustraCare's Workplace Considerations series shines a light on different aspects of day-to-day health and safety management, with tips and techniques for development.
No ladders, no massive machinery, no real risk, right? While it's unrealistic to think the role of an office worker to carry as many life threatening dangers as a nuclear plant operator or someone who works on an oil rig, it doesn't mean that health and safety management isn't important.
Health and safety legislation is broad, covering visual, musculoskeletal and psychological issues - which includes bullying, harassment and mental health. This is often overlooked by employers and employees alike (mainly due to the lack of life threatening risk) which creates an area of health and safety which becomes particularly difficult to encourage people to care about.
The aim of this post is to try and change that and to give you an idea of what needs to be done to keep our office based staff safe.
First things first, what can we class as an office environment?
The first thing to remember here, regardless of your own personal views of working in an office environment - there's no set definition, certainly when it comes to safety. So we can't just say 'right ok, if your workplace fits this specific checklist then you are definitely only an office environment.'
We can, however, provide some basic guidelines, starting with the type of work carried out. For example, clerical and administration is usually carried out in an office - but what about joint workplaces? If, for example, your business is a bit like ours in that you have your offices and a warehouse - these must be treated separately as they pose very different risks.
While health and safety legislation doesn't make any specification distinctions between workplaces, it does provide guidance on specific risks such as noise, radiation and heights, but what about the risks facing our beloved desk jockeys?
Health and safety factors impacting office workers
Housekeeping, slips, trips and falls
So how important is general tidiness and keeping the workplace clean? Turns out pretty vital. Poor housekeeping can cause a range of incidents:
- Slips, trips or falls on loose debris (piles of files for example)
- Slipping on greasy or wet surfaces that haven't been cleaned or signposted.
- Falling objects
- Walking into projecting items or apparatus - simply put walking into an open filing cabinet drawer - I can guarantee will give you angry employees.
- Cutting or puncturing of your skin - for example knives being left in soapy water in the sink.
Slips trips and falls can range from minor injuries such as a bump or bruise to major injuries - broken bones, concussion or death. This type of hazard while apparent in the vast majority of industries is certainly one to watch out for within the office environment. Other causes can include uneven surfaces, worn, torn or badly fitted carpets, loose cabling from computers and wires which travel across the office without a protector.
Here are our top five benefits of proper housekeeping in the office environment, this isn't an exhaustive list though!
- Reduced number of fire hazards through a clutter-free office
- Better control over inventory, supplies and space
- More efficient cleanup and maintenance (including less overall janitorial work)
- Improved morale and productivity
- Healthier and more hygienic working conditions.
Now we know some of the benefits, what is it that actually makes up an effective housekeeping program? Every workplace has its own individual requirements which will need to be looked after, depending on location, size, and workforce but here are some general tips:
- Clean as you go: My parents always told me when cooking a meal wash the pots as you go, making it a much less traumatic task after you've eaten! (Shame I still can't cook to save my life - but I can clean). Doing bits of cleaning throughout your shift will reduce the need for a periodic big clean.
- Waste removal - including unused materials, should be taken away on a daily basis to a secure container away from the building while they await pick up. Essentially put rubbish in the outside bin and don't have that bin up against the building in case someone sets fire to it!
- If you don't have a custodian (or even if you do, everyone needs to do their bit) have a cleaning rota outlining the duties of each member of staff to keep everything in order.
- Cleaning should include disinfecting, vacuuming and dusting as well as any other property maintenance as may be required.
- Employee facilities need to be well maintained - but we'll get into this more a bit later on.
- Remember, all passageways, walkways, stairs, fire escapes and access routes must be kept clear at all times.
Fires come with the inherent risk of burns, smoke inhalation and death. But what are the causes within the office environment?
Faulty or overloaded sockets and extension leads have been a leading cause of fire in the past. Poorly maintained equipment can also be a major issue. PAT testing plays a part here.
Fire routes and exits must be adequately signed and kept completely clear at all times. It is worth noting here that a lot of companies will store cardboard by the exit in preparation for bin day - by doing this we're keeping fuel next to our escape.
Electrical risks come in the forms of electric shock, burns ranging from minor to severe, fire and death. These risks are commonly caused by faulty or poorly maintained equipment. Portable Appliance Test (PAT testing) should be carried out on a regular basis, usually annually, in order to ensure that your electrical equipment is safe and compliant.
While straightforward and seemingly obvious, storage arrangements are often overlooked causing avoidable accidents or injury.
- Only have one drawer of a filing cabinet open at any one time to prevent the unit from falling over.
- Heavier items should be stored in/on lower drawers or shelves for increased stability.
- Provide kickstools or ladders where necessary if items are to be stored on high shelves.
- Don't leave filing cabinet drawers open when not in use (nothing more annoying than slamming your shin into an unexpected piece of metal, except maybe standing on a plug in bare feet).
Yes - office workers definitely face the risk of injury through poor manual handling, for example archiving, filing, and cleaning. While no, office workers won't face the same level of risk to manual handling as warehouse staff will, we still need to take measures to address this. Whether it be lifting, lowering, carrying, pushing or pulling - we all need to be careful.
Manual Handling injuries, according to the Health and Safety Executive are a part of a wider group of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This group of injuries covers any injury, damage or disorder of the joints or other tissue within the upper/lower limbs or the back.
There were 6.6 million working days lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders in 2017/18 (Labour Force Survey).
Possible causes of MSDs include lifting heavy items - such as boxes of archiving or lifting such items with a poor technique. A lack of physical activity in general can contribute to MSD, something office workers must be aware of.
For further information on manual handling as well as the correct technique throughout the process we highly recommend reading the HSE's guide: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg143.pdf
VDU's/ DSE and Ergonomics
Take a look here for more information on Visual Display Units (VDU's) and Display Screen Equipment (DSE).
As for ergonomics, which is a science focused around the 'fit' between people and their work, taking into account a person's capabilities and limitations. Ergonomics is tailoring the tasks, information, equipment and environment to each individual worker. An assessment must be undertaken to determine the how appropriate the current fit is:
- The task being done - this includes the demands on the worker such as activities, workload, work pacing or shift work. The equipment used - for office workers this will include chairs, desks and computers. How is information presented to the workforce? Written reports, visual presentations etc. Finally, the physical environment including temperature, humidity, lighting and noise.
- The individual - this includes physical characteristics such as body size and shape, fitness, posture, vision, hearing and touch and the psychological such as mental abilities, personality, knowledge, training and experience.
- The organisation and social environment - team structure, supervision/leadership, supportive management, communications and resources.
Including ergonomics within the workplace can reduce the chances of accidents, injury, ill health as well as improving performance and productivity. Returning to the topic though - the office environment and how might we apply ergonomics?
The design of the workstation layout is of vital importance to our office staff. For example why would we have items that are frequently used out of reach? Having inadequate space under your desk for your legs be it due to a the computer tower or boxes of files. Chairs which don't adjust to the user's body type or inadequate lighting causing eyestrain.
Ergonomics are vital to keeping the workforce safe and healthy, further reading is available here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg90.pdf
Office First aid and accident reporting
We have some upcoming posts dedicated to first aid in general but for now:
The vast majority of offices will be classed as low-risk, remember here we're solely talking about offices and not those which are joined with another area of business such as factory or laboratory. As a bare minimum you will need a stocked first-aid kit, a person to take charge of the first aid arrangements within your business (this could be you) and the appropriate information and signage displayed providing employees with information about the first aid arrangements including the location of your first aid kits and what to do in an emergency.
In the event of an accident though, employees need to know what do to and this will depend on the severity of the injury. At a minimum all accidents should be recorded within an accident book, regardless of how small they are. Near misses should also be recorded as these are incidents which have the ability to cause harm but didn't.
Look here for more information on risk assessments
It is essential that everyone within your premises knows exactly what to do in the event of an emergency, including your employees and visitors. It should be ensured that in the event of a fire alarm, for example, fire action notices are clearly displayed with instructions, as well as fire escape routes being clearly marked and assembly points being easy to locate.
Everyone must know who to call in the event of an emergency. Someone should be nominated to take charge in the event of an emergency, such as a fire marshal.
Office lighting shouldn't be so bright that display screen equipment becomes difficult to see or that extra concentration is required to do so, the same can be said for it being too dark. It is recommended to have a combination of both artificial and natural light to ensure the correct lighting method. The control of natural light needs to be ensured to prevent reflections on DSE, this can be done through the use of window blinds.
Noise at work is controlled by legislation to protect people's hearing, but in an office environment noise rarely reaches damaging levels. Annoying, on the other hand, absolutely. Nobody wants the desk next to that photocopier as this could drive the most patient of people insane. If possible a dedicated machine room would be ideal for printers, photocopiers and guillotines. In all seriousness, the noise of an annoying photocopier or other office machinery can damage concentration and productivity.
While thermal comfort is of course subjective (and contentious), for office portable heaters/air conditioners to be used effectively you'll need to take into account air movement, humidity, type of clothing (such as uniform) and the type of work being undertaken - remember to PAT test.
I told you we'd come back to welfare! These facilities include toilets which must be in full working order, a kitchen area - remember any microwaves and fridges should be PAT tested, and cleaning should be included within the housekeeping program.
Hot and cold water, soap and hand drying facilities must be provided. Suitable drinking water is a statutory requirement. All of these facilities should have adequate ventilation, be kept clean and be well maintained.
Finally, thank you for reading our first post of 2019. We'll be back soon with more!