Health and safety is never a hugely popular topic of discussion in the workplace, particularly in offices where there aren’t many obvious risks. However, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t an essential part of business life.
There is a range of health and safety risks in the office, from minor things like slips and trips to serious hazards posed by faulty equipment. Failing to manage these risks could lead to employees getting injured and your business facing legal consequences, so health and safety rules in an office must be established and followed.
With that in mind, we’ve provided a guide to health and safety in the office in this article, along with an explanation of why health and safety for office workers is so important.
The primary reason why health and safety in an office is important is that it keeps your employees safe. Everyone should be able to go to work in an environment that doesn’t put them in danger or increase their likelihood of injury, and by creating safe office spaces, you allow your employees to do their jobs without risk of harm.
Keeping your employees safe in the office is also important because it’s a legal requirement. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is a piece of legislation that provides guidelines on occupational health and safety in the UK and makes it the responsibility of employers to keep their employees safe through things like risk assessments and health and safety training. Failure to follow these health and safety regulations in an office could result in serious legal consequences.
From a business perspective, removing health and safety hazards in an office is better for your organisation as it reduces the likelihood that accidents and injuries are going to interfere with your employee’s ability to do their jobs. This keeps productivity high and leads to more efficient working, as well as preventing employees from having to go off work with injuries or having to pay injured employees compensation after an accident.
Finally, implementing good health and safety practices in the office creates a better workplace environment, as employees feel safe and protected by their employer. This means that they’re less distracted worrying about risk and can focus on their work, leading to more productivity and efficiency, as well as more enjoyment at work.
Offices aren’t generally considered to be very dangerous working environments. However, some situations and actions present a risk to employee safety, the most common of which we have outlined below.
Probably the biggest health and safety consideration in any workplace is fire safety. It’s a life and business-threatening issue, which means it must be dealt with seriously and correctly.
All offices should have at least one person responsible for fire safety. It’s this fire marshal’s job to identify all potential fire hazards in the workplace, take steps to reduce the likelihood of a fire starting, and then put measures in place that reduce the severity of the situation if a fire does occur.
In an office environment, this will generally mean providing equipment like fire extinguishers that can tackle paper and electrical fires and providing the correct signage to help people get out of a burning building. An office fire marshal may also take charge of arranging fire drills and overseeing preparations for these.
All employees should be familiar with the fire safety procedures, and fire alarms and smoke detectors should be checked and tested regularly. Employees should also be aware of where they need to go in the event of a fire and any responsibilities they have within this procedure.
Electrical risks should be fairly minimal in an office, but they are nonetheless something that needs to be considered. A lot of electrical equipment is used daily in an office, meaning that there are plenty of potential hazards that could cause either electrical shocks or a fire.
Poorly maintained equipment can cause electric shocks, which can be very severe or even fatal. In addition, many fires are started in offices each year as the result of poorly maintained electrical equipment, which could cause lasting damage to a workspace and the employees in it.
All electrical equipment must be tested by law to ensure that it’s safe to use in the workplace, especially new equipment that may be brought in by an employee from home. Testing is only a single part of electrical safety – other precautions should also be taken, such as keeping liquids away from electrical objects and not overloading power sockets with excessive plugs.
Slips, trips and falls are very common causes of injury in the workplace and need to be considered as a health and safety risk in the office. Trip hazards usually only cause minor injuries or inconveniences, but in rare cases, they can lead to serious injuries that can keep employees off work for months.
Managing trip hazards involves keeping the office space as tidy as possible and encouraging employees to do the same. You should also advise against wearing unsuitable footwear when in the office, as this can increase the risk of tripping even on a smooth and flat surface.
Ensure that employees know to keep their spaces tidy, shut doors and drawers after use and report spillages immediately. Make sure that you have things like wet floor signs on hand as well so that hazardous areas can be clearly identified.
Everyone has heard the phrase ‘lift with your legs, not with your back’, and it’s something that’s said with good reason. Even in offices, manual handling is something that’s encountered on a semi-regular basis. Whether it’s lifting desks and monitors when you’re having an office move-around, or you’re lifting heavy boxes of old archives, there’s always the potential for employees to sustain an injury.
Always follow manual handling best practice guidelines, and ensure that everyone else does the same. This means getting as close to an object as possible before picking it up, keeping it close to your body, ensuring you’ve got a good grip, and of course using your legs and knees to do the lifting, not your back.
Whilst most people will have a vague idea of how best to lift and carry heavy objects, if employees are regularly required to do basic manual handling then they might benefit from a manual handling training course.
Injuries, both minor and severe, need to be considered as the potential result of health and safety hazards in any office. Accidents are unpredictable and can happen anywhere, so you should always be prepared.
Most offices will have kitchens which have plenty of potential hazards. Employees are also at risk of cutting themselves on objects, falling over or bumping their heads, as well as potentially fainting or falling ill whilst at work.
A first aid kit is a necessary inclusion in any office, and it should be large enough to deal with a wide range of potential issues depending on how many people are in the office. There should also always be a designated first aider with formal and accredited training to deal with serious situations and provide advice when an employee is injured at work.
Offices also need a record of any first aid incidents, as these can be consulted if an employee decides to take legal action and also make it easy to identify any recurring incidents and stop them from happening.
If you’d like to learn more about basic first aid for the office, our ‘First Aid at Work Course: Primary Survey’ is ideal.
Display screen equipment (DSE) is classed as PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Employees that use these at work run the risk of a range of health conditions if the equipment is used incorrectly, and as more and more jobs become digital, the need for DSE health and safety guidance has grown.
One of the biggest risks of using display screen equipment is that a poorly organised workstation or bad posture can lead to pain in the neck, back, head, arms, wrists and eyes. Employees must have access to proper desks and chairs that allow them to use DSE properly, along with being given regular breaks so that they don’t strain their eyes. This is also a risk for employees that work from home some or all of the time.
Employers need to ensure that their staff have the proper equipment in their home working setup and also consider arranging DSE health and safety training so that staff know how to sit at a desk to use computers and other devices without injuring themselves.
Finally, a note should be made about general office housekeeping. Trailing wires, stacked boxes, uneven floors, damaged carpets and more can all cause accidents in the office. Seemingly innocuous things can lead to a first aid situation and even minor ones can be easily avoided by just having some common sense and making sure there aren’t any avoidable hazards.
Every employee in an office has a responsibility to keep the environment safe, which means keeping their desk tidy and taking action when they see potential hazards such as loose wires, wet floors or damaged electrical equipment. Employers are responsible for reducing or removing these hazards, but employees should also be held accountable for keeping their workplace safe.
A more recent addition to the list of common health and safety risks in the office is workplace stress. Protecting your employee's mental health is just as important as preserving their physical health, and reducing stress at work is one of the best ways to do this.
HSE has identified six key things that contribute to workplace stress; demands, control, support, relationships, role and change. As an employer, you should make sure that there aren't any organisational factors that are contributing to these causes of stress in the workplace, such as inefficient resources, unfair allocation of work or unclear responsibilities.
You should also offer employees support to help them manage and reduce any stress that they feel at work so that their wellbeing is preserved and they don’t have to deal with further mental or physical health problems because of stress. Offer pastoral support, provide a budget for wellbeing activities, and create a culture where employees feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.
Our online ‘Supporting Your Staff Through Mental Health’ training course may also be useful in offering advice on how to help staff manage stress at work.
According to the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, it is the responsibility of the employer to manage health and safety in their workplace. This involves removing and reducing risk in the workplace as much as possible, carrying out regular risk assessments to maintain a good level of safety in the office, and providing staff with health and safety training where necessary.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is the main law that regulates how health and safety risks in the office are handled. Other important pieces of legislation include the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR).
The main piece of guidance concerning fire safety in the workplace is The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. It makes it the responsibility of the person in control of the office premises to complete a fire risk assessment and implement fire safety precautions, such as fire extinguishers and an evacuation plan.
Risk management in an office may seem unnecessary because it’s generally a safe environment, but failure to reduce and remove risk can lead to serious consequences, so it’s vital that any risk, however small, is addressed. If you’re responsible for managing health and safety in an office environment and keeping your employees safe at work, the best thing you can do is complete a comprehensive risk assessment and then take action based on the potential hazards that have been identified.
For advice on filling out a health and safety risk assessment and more guidance on this topic, take a look at our ‘Awareness of Health and Safety at Work’ online training course, which is CPD certified.