It goes without saying that some workplaces are risky, and in these work environments where risks are expected they are often easier to identify and mitigate. The office environment is generally considered a safe place to work, but this can lead employers and their staff into a false sense of security. Just because the risks in an office environment may not be as obvious or perceived as being serious it doesn’t mean that the risks are not present.
Employers will ignore the risks of an office environment at their peril because there are very serious consequences on the table for an employer that is found to have neglected their duty of care in relation to health and safety. Penalties that an employer can expect to face should they fall foul of health and safety regulations include hefty fines and even prison time for the more serious breaches.
Not only are there serious consequences for the employer, but a staff member who is not properly taken care of by their employer can face accidents, illness, injury and even death in the worst cases. A safe and healthy workplace unfortunately can’t remove every aspect of risk from employees’ day to day lives at the workplace, but it does need to properly assess the risks and make sure adverse incidents are as unlikely as possible.
Identifying risks in the workplace
Whether there are five employees in the workplace or 500, the employer must take their health and safety extremely seriously and provide them with a safe, healthy and hygienic place to work. The first step to achieving a safe and legally compliant workplace is to carry out a thorough risk assessment to identify potential issues and take appropriate action to remedy the situation.
Any workplace will need to carry out a full risk assessment when the business opens or relocates to a new premises but doing this task once is not enough. New risk assessments need to be made every time there is a major change to the office layout, or when new equipment is installed, or when other significant changes are made to the workplace operations. Regardless of whether changes have been made or not, office risk assessment documentation needs to be reviewed annually.
The office environment
There are more risks associated with the office environment than you may think so be on the lookout for them. For example, cables can pose a trip hazard and can even cause electrical incidents which highlights the importance of good cable containment systems and other cable management methods.
The office must be maintained at a reasonable temperature and air quality must be within certain parameters. This involves monitoring the air temperature and quality on an ongoing basis, but there is another risk that comes from controlling air quality: legionnaires disease. Legionnaires disease is a serious respiratory condition that can prove fatal.
Another risk that pertains to the office space itself is something called sick building syndrome. The causes of sick building syndrome are poorly understood, but it can be deduced that it is down to a number of things.
Sick building syndrome is more likely to be reported in open plan offices and is thought to be caused by a number of factors that include poor ventilation, poor lighting that is not bright enough, is too bright, or is flickering, limited access to windows and natural light, dust, smoke, and fibres in the air, and poorly laid out or cluttered workspaces.
It might seem odd that health and wellbeing of staff can be affected by these things, but sick building syndrome needs to be taken seriously because it can lead to unhappy workers and contribute to absenteeism. The most commonly reported symptoms of sick building syndrome include headaches, blocked and stuffy sinuses, rashes, dry and itchy skin and eyes, tiredness and a difficulty concentrating.
There are several things that a workplace can implement to ease the symptoms of sick building syndrome, some of which are easier to implement than others. Try opening windows to improve ventilation and airflow, and maintain the office at a steady room temperature. Staff should be encouraged to take regular breaks from their computer screens and should be allowed to have comfort breaks to relieve stress and stretch their legs.