We think we recognise hazardous environments, but conversely, some of the least hazardous places can be more dangerous because we’re complacent about the risks.
Any inherently hazardous workplace will have many safeguards and processes to mitigate the hazards as much as possible, but the office workplace isn’t generally perceived as a hazardous environment, so people tend to be less aware of the risks of injury, and even death, that surround them.
Here are eight basic areas to examine, when ensuring your staff are prepared for the hazards that present themselves in the office.
All employees should know how to:
- Report fires, injuries, spills and other emergencies.
- Identify different alarm signals
- Leave the building in an emergency
- Find the assembly point
You might have a safety handbook issued to all new staff, and conduct regular fire and emergency drills to assess your building evacuation plans and procedures. However you inform your staff, make the guidance clear and the processes straightforward.
2. Firefighting equipment.
As an employer you need to ensure:
- Your fire extinguishers, call points, blankets and sprinkler systems are regularly checked.
- Your alarm systems (fire, intrusion) are regularly serviced.
- Only designated, trained, staff will attempt to use extinguishers
- Designated staff are regularly trained and tested in the use of the equipment available.
3. Injuries and illness.
Office workers don’t tend to face the same injury risks as industrial workers, but this can lead to complacency. Even a fall from a step or staircase can be fatal. You should consider having at least one trained first-aider in the office at all times and a well established, clear, and up-to-date injury and accident reporting procedure.
All staff should know:
- How to summon the emergency services to your premises
- Who the designated first aider is on any day
- Where the first aid kits, defibrillators or other medical equipment and supplies are kept.
4. Slip, trip and fall hazards
Slips, trips and falls are the number one cause of office workplace injuries, and are for the most part, entirely avoidable with a simple set of measures:
- Keep floors dry, clean up spills immediately, and pay particular attention to wet floors at entrances when its raining or snowing.
- Wear shoes with non-slip soles and low heels.
- No running!
- Keep areas well lit, inside and out, report missing or broken lights.
- Keep aisles, stairs, corridors and working areas free of obstructions.
- Ensure no electrical cables cross areas of high footfall, or use cable ramps to ensure they aren’t trip hazards.
- Ensure all staff are instructed in the safe use of step ladders, kick steps or similar. No standing on desks or chairs please!
5. Safe lifting
Even offices require staff to do some manual lifting and all staff should be fully aware of safe lifting procedure and practice. Staff should all be able to:
- Plan their lift, assess weight, path taken, and place to set object down safely.
- Intervene when other staff are not lifting safely, and instruct them.
- Use a trolley, cart or dolly to move heavy objects, rather than carrying them.
6. Electrical Hazards.
Electricity can cause fatal shocks and burns as well as causing fires, and must be treated with respect and caution. Defective, incorrectly installed and misused electrical equipment represents a serious hazard. All staff should:
- Avoid handling cords, plugs, switches or equipment with wet hands.
- Avoid overloading sockets with adaptors and too many appliances.
- Avoid lifting or moving equipment by the power cable.
- Report suspected faulty electrical equipment immediately
- Only use designated power switches and buttons, and avoid cycling power via fuseboxes, circuit breakers or pulling plugs.
As an employer you need to ensure that all your appliances are PAT tested and in good repair.
7. Chemical Hazards.
From ink and adhesives to kitchen cleaning products, offices store plenty of hazardous chemicals that may be corrosive, flammable, reactive or even explosive. All employees should:
- Know what chemicals they are permitted to use
- Be trained in dealing with spills
- Know where CoSHH and Data Sheets are kept for all chemicals.
- Report any mislabelled or unlabelled chemical containers.
8. Regular assessment of reporting practices.
Reporting is key to mitigating hazards in the office workplace. Hazards can only be addressed if they are correctly identified, and this requires vigilance from every member of staff. When there are changes in the office, from new equipment to new procedures, a review of the hazards should be part of any assessment procedure. All staff should be encouraged to report anything they see that could represent a hazard.