A Low Risk Office does not mean there are No Risks
Your average office environment usually does not count among the most hazardousyou are likely to encounter and for that reason it sometimes can be ignored in therisk assessment process. While most offices are on the lower scale of risks therecan be significant factors which it would be most unwise to overlook. Many of thehazards in an average office result in only minor injuries, typically trips and falls, although some of these injuries can be serious and cause a long term effect.
The law requires that all employers conduct Risk Assessments in their workplace,taking into account the hazards present and the controls in place. The riskassessment process is relatively simple, even more so in your average office – butstill many employers fail to conduct an appropriate assessment and thereby leavetheir organisation open to the threat of litigation and the potential for injuries to staff.
Today’s modern offices are substantially different from the office environment of 25years ago. Sweeping changes have occurred in the workplace as a result of newoffice technology and office equipment. Consequently, office workers are faced with many more hazards. In addition to the more obvious hazards such as trip hazards and open file drawers - there are other hazards lurking in the modern office. Topics such as lighting, heating, ventilation, ergonomics and electrical safety also have to be considered.
As with all workplaces employers have a legal obligation to conduct an assessmentof the risks and to implement control measures based on those findings. Some ofthose hazards will be more apparent than others – set out below are some of themore obvious ones.
Fire – fire safety is an ever present risk in all organisations, and homes for thatmatter. Employers must have appropriate measures in place to firstly prevent firesfrom starting, but should they occur employers must be able to deal with the situationin an appropriate manner.
There is a legal obligation to have fire detection and firefighting equipment. Safe methods of exiting the area must be available to allpresent. Persons of limited mobility or who may need extra assistance in the event ofan evacuation will need to have a specific evacuation plan formulated and all staffmust be aware of what action is required of them during an emergency situation.
A series of periodic, recorded checks and servicing will ensure that all items such as fire exits, fire extinguishers, alarms, emergency lighting and smoke detection will all be working effectively should the need arise. Training will be required to make staff aware of what is required and what action is expected of them. This usually takes theform of fire drills and fire safety training.
Electricity - Checking your electrical equipment and installations will reduce the chances of an electrical fire – currently the most common cause of outbreaks of firein the workplace. Simple visual checks may be all that is required on some equipment but installations and more technical equipment will need a competent person to assess them. If in doubt, speak to a qualified, competent person who canadvise accordingly.
Housekeeping – a common cause of injuries is an untidy or disorganised workplace. By putting in place simple rules and checks on the work area you can counteract many of the common issues such as trip hazards, trailing cables, objects falling over and poor maintenance issues. Filing cabinets left open, flooring defects, leads and electrical floor boxes are common causes of safety issues in the office.
First Aid – provisions must be made to have suitable and appropriate resources and facilities to deal with any first aid situation which could be reasonable expected to occur in your workplace. There is an obligation to provide first aid kits – guidance is available from the Health and Safety Authority (H.S.A) on the contents of the kit, many kits bought from stationary suppliers do not conform to the H.S.A. guidelines. A percentage of Staff should be trained to provide first aid and everyone should be made aware of how to contact local doctor or accident and emergency department of the nearest hospital.
VDU / DSE – Visual Display Units (VDU) or Display Screen Equipment (DSE) can carry a level of risk for users which must be dealt with effectively. There are specific regulations and guidelines which must be followed and employers should seekguidance and advice on how to carry out assessments and develop a policy.
Manual Handling – many office managers do not see manual handling as an issue which they should deal with, it is however the most common form of injury in the workplace. There is a legal requirement to provide manual handling training to all persons who are at risk of injury from lifting, moving, pushing pulling etc. your risk assessment should aim to eliminate or reduce the handling issues and develop work practices which reduce the level of risk to employees. There are serious issues concerning repetitive strain issues and ergonomics associated with workers whospend most of their day at a screen and keyboard.
Personal Safety / Security – access control and the personal safety of workers should be considered also, depending on the location of the office, the type of office work and the building it is located in, there may be significant risks associated with preventing unauthorised access. Lone working in the office is something which should not be encouraged and an assessment of the risks associated with leaving the office onto street level in the hours of darkness should also be considered.
Other matters which should be considered are bullying and harassment and the control of contractors. Every organisation should have a bullying and harassment policy and procedures for dealing with these incidents in both an informal and formal manner.
Bringing contractors into the office can sometimes mean importing some major risks too. You should request copies of contractor’s documents to ensure that you have insurance details, safety statements etc. so you can be assured of the competence of the contractors to do the job safely before they commence.
Managing safety in the office environment does not have to be an onerous task, but being aware of the risk will help you develop policies and procedures to reduce or eliminate them. This can reduce losses to productivity, injuries and illness to staff members and the potential for costly litigation.
Remember just because the office it is seen as a low risk workplace does not indemnify you from the legal responsibility to maintain a safe place of work, safe systems of work and to have an effective safety management system in place.