Keeping Your Office Building Safe
The importance of implementing office safety procedures cannot be understated. Identifying hazards and taking measures to mitigate risk is essential to the health of your employees. The risk of workplace injury and accidents are often much higher than many people expect. Without incorporating the correct safety measures and procedures in your office, your employees or visitors are far more likely to sustain a workplace injury.
Workplace Injury And Accident Data
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) data for the 2020/21 financial year show that 1.7 million people in Great Britain suffer from work-related illnesses. HSE also reported 441,000 people sustained injuries at work (according to the Labour Force Survey data). 51,211 injuries were reported under RIDDOR.
In addition to employee injuries, offices also need to mitigate fire risks. Government-published data for fires in the 2020/21 financial year showed they were over 330 Primary Fires* in offices and call centres alone.
*primary fires are defined as fires that meet one or more of the following criteria:
(a) any fire that occurred in a (non-derelict) building, vehicle or outdoor structure,
(b) any fire involving fatalities, casualties or rescues,
(c) any fire attended by five or more pumping appliances.
These statistics illustrate the threat of workplace hazards and fires. But what can be done to reduce the risks and protect employees, customers, and visitors?
Who Is Responsible For Health & Safety In Office Buildings?
Clearly defining people’s roles is an integral part of office health and safety. There is one significant role regarding health and safety that you must get to grips with, “The Responsible Person”. The Responsible Person has several duties regarding workplace safety, risk assessments, and reporting injuries and accidents.
What does a Responsible Person do?
A Responsible Person has several duties. These responsibilities include:
- Reporting workplace accidents and injuries
- Carrying out risk assessments
- Monitoring and reviewing risk assessments
- Inform ing staff of identified risks
- Coordinating with other responsible persons in the building
- Ensuring staff receive the necessary fire safety training
- Implementing health and safety procedures
- Supplying appropriate PPE
Who can be the responsible person?
The role of a Responsible Person typically falls to the people with control over the relevant areas of the premises. This means the position could fall to a business owner, employer, or occupier. A Responsible Person may not have complete control over premises. In this case, they must communicate with other Responsible Persons regarding identified hazards. Anyone with a level of control over a property, such as a landlord, must also remain compliant with health and safety and fire safety regulations.
Employee’s health and safety responsibilities
In addition to the responsible person, landlords, and others controlling the property, employees must take appropriate measures to maintain a safe work environment. This includes attending health and safety training, adhering to safety procedures and reporting hazards.
How Important Are Risk Assessments?
Risk assessments are a crucial part of maintaining a safe work environment. They not only identify hazards but those who are most at risk. It is a straightforward way of identifying hazards and creating a plan to resolve them, mitigating the risks and preventing workplace accidents.
What is included in a risk assessment?
A risk assessment is made up of three main stages. Firstly, you identify hazards to gain a clear picture of what could cause illness or injury in your business. Following this, you identify the risk by assessing the likelihood of an injury. You will also consider the likely severity of an injury from a hazard. The third stage is to eliminate hazards where possible. If you cannot entirely remove a hazard, you should work to reduce the risk. There are a few additional steps; recording your findings and reviewing your safety measures.
The Benefits of Office Safety
The benefits of proper office safety are immeasurable. You should not view Health and safety as a regulatory burden. Whilst there are many laws and regulations which need to be adhered to, there are many other reasons to implement good workplace safety than simply because the law requires it. There are a vast number of ways correct safety procedures can help a business to thrive.
Keeping employees safe
The standout reason for thorough and effective health and safety procedures is the wellbeing of your employees. Of course, looking after the health of your employees alone is sufficient reason to prioritise workplace safety. However, additional auxiliary benefits to having a healthier workforce include fewer sick days, higher productivity, and less employee turnover.
Health and safety can also impact your company’s reputation. Accidents can damage your reputation, whilst a stellar record can work in your favour. An excellent reputation around health and safety can make you more appealing to prospective employees, customers, and partners. A poor record could turn away potential great hires or result in partners distancing themselves from your business.
Workplace accidents can also be expensive. There are the costs of repairing damage, legal expenses, and increases in insurance costs. Plus, the higher turnover addressed in the previous point can be expensive as the costs of hiring and training new employees add up. Combined with potential customer losses from reputational damage, poor workplace safety can be very costly for a business.
Workplace accidents can lead to lawsuits too. Lawsuits can be expensive and time-consuming. They can also add to reputational damage for a company exacerbating some of the problems discussed earlier. Through proper health and safety procedures and thorough risk assessments, you can reduce the risk of accidents. If an accident does occur, you will be better prepared to respond more optimally. This will significantly reduce your chances of expensive lawsuits.
The knock-on effects of workplace safety reach all areas. They can even improve the quality of your service. With a happier, more effective team, your service is sure to benefit. And a better quality service results in more satisfied customers. This fosters better customer loyalty and an improved reputation.
Promoting a positive workplace culture
A healthier workforce, low turnover, and even happier customers work together to generate a more positive workplace culture. This positive culture feeds into increased productivity and improved service and results in more pleased customers. This illustrates how health and safety can introduce an interconnected web of benefits that promote and prop up one another.
Your Guide To Achieving A Safe Office
A practical guide outlining what business owners can put in place to create a safe office environment. To be included (but not limited to):
So far in this guide, we have addressed:
- Why office safety is important
- Whose responsibility office safety is
- The benefits of office safety
These are all fundamental aspects of office safety. Once you have a strong understanding of the fundamentals, here are some of the things you can do to begin making your office safer:
Encourage your employees to speak up
An essential part of maintaining a safe work environment is support from the whole team. Everyone in the business holds some responsibility for their safety and the safety of those around them. As the Responsible Person, it is your job to see that hazards are dealt with properly, but others can still alert you to issues. Encouraging all members to alert you of potential hazards is one of the best ways to identify issues and correct them before they cause an accident. Alongside regular risk assessment, an alert workforce will help you prevent needless accidents and prevent potential injuries or damage to the property.
Appoint staff to be the go-to person for safety concerns
Safety concerns should be directed to an appointed individual. This will streamline the process of raising concerns and limit miscommunication. Having a person staff can point out issues to (and making them aware of this) enables them to speak up and raise concerns more easily. The appointed person should be able to action changes to reduce safety risks.
Provide correct training
Employee training is essential to office safety. Everyone with direct responsibility for health and safety issues needs full training. Furthermore, all other employees need to know safety processes and procedures. They must understand the evacuation process and are aware of fire exit routes. Training is not only applicable to employees. Contractors, for instance, should also be informed about emergency procedures and alerted to hazards.
In addition to the vital knowledge and training, all staff should be provided access to the necessary facilities. Employees will need access to toilets and sinks (with hand soap).
Office Hazards to Look Out For
The health and safety of employees, customers and anyone else on your work premises is a top priority. To maintain high safety standards, you need to remain vigilant. There are many potential hazards a company should look to prevent and be prepared for. The list of health hazards that can occur in a workplace is extensive, and the specifics of your workplace will affect what you discover through your assessments.
We have curated a list of some of the most common risks and hazards found in office environments. We have also included some advice on identifying and dealing with them to point you in the right direction.
Air quality and ventilation
It is crucial to ensure your office has an adequate supply of fresh air. You can achieve this with natural or mechanical ventilation (fans and ducts).
Ventilation is a crucial element of preventing mould. Mould grows where there is excess moisture build-up, which can occur due to spills or improper ventilation in areas such as kitchens or bathrooms. The health risks of mould range from skin irritation to respiratory problems. Some people may also have an allergic reaction to mould too.
Ventilation also concerns the spread of airborne illness. One key factor in the transmission rate is “population density” – how many people occupy space and how large the area is. A higher population density can increase the spread of airborne illnesses. The amount of people that occupy or pass through an area also increases the risk of an infected person being present and subsequent risk of transmission.
Exposure to prolonged and loud noises can put people’s hearing at risk. A noise risk assessment could help you identify areas in your business where there is a risk relating to noise exposure. You can use the assessment to plan ways to mitigate risk and better protect your employee’s hearing.
Slips, trips and falls are all covered in a risk assessment. Each can result in serious harm to employees, customers or visitors. Many risks can be removed or reduced, such as moving obstacles that pose a trip hazard. Implementing an effective process for notifying people of new issues and clearing them away quickly can also greatly reduce slips and trips.
Mental health issues
The health and wellbeing of your employees extend beyond their physical wellbeing. The mental health of your workforce is a serious issue that also demands the utmost attention. Providing employees with someone to talk to about mental health issues is a big step. You don’t need an in-house mental health expert. However, having someone that can provide employees with the necessary details for the appropriate professional services is a great way to assist your team. It is important that your employees know that they can speak with this person. Creating an environment where people can be open about their mental health can make people more comfortable accessing the support they need.
Fire Hazards are some of the most severe risks to your employees and your building. Fire risk assessments are essential to reducing this risk. In addition to fire safety procedures and training, the building also needs to meet important standards. Fire doors are essential. There must be an adequate supply of fire extinguishers and clear, accessible fire exits. You should give the storage of flammable materials particular attention. The building must also use cladding that does not contain combustible material. If flammable cladding were exposed to a flame it would result in the fire spreading on the outside of the building.
Electric hazards are extremely serious; they have the potential to cause significant harm or even death. Some electrical hazards also present a risk of causing a fire hazard. Electrical hazards should definitely be covered in risk assessments. All identified risks should be fixed immediately by a qualified professional. Regular electrical testing (such as EICR and PAT tests) is essential to identifying risks and creating a clear plan to resolve issues before they lead to an accident.
Ergonomic issues are prevalent in office environments. Ergonomics is the practice of avoiding tasks that cause harm or injury. There are many ways an office job can lead to aches and pains or even musculoskeletal disorders. Unlike falls, for example, many of these injuries occur as a result of prolonged exposure or repetitive strain. For instance, a common example of workplace injury is back pain from continued stints of poor posture from sitting at a desk. Some ways to mitigate this risk is to use ergonomic chairs designed to encourage better posture or alternate between a sitting and standing desk. There are many other ways to optimise your posture, such as adjusting your monitor height and position. Regular breaks are also important.
How to maintain a safe work environment
There are many risks that can appear in an office. However, with an effective system and professional help, you can work to remove and prevent them. Through risk assessments, you can identify all kinds of hazards, fix them and build processes to prevent them from reappearing.