Health and safety is an essential part of business life that is often overlooked in work environments with perceived less risks, such as office premises. However, while office workers may be less at risk of physical injury than say factory or building operators, they still face a number of potential hazards.
This includes everything from slips and trips, to bullying and harassment. What’s more, work-related illnesses can prove extremely costly to your business. According to Act Associates, “in 2015/16, it is estimated that over 25 million working days were lost due to work-related illness which cost the economy billions of pounds.” Having an effective health and safety policy in place to protect employees is therefore essential - whatever your business and whatever the level of risk. With this in mind, we’re going to take a look at a few of the most important things that any business should consider.
Probably the biggest and most serious health and safety consideration in any workplace is fire safety. In addition to possible injury and loss of life, a serious fire can close down a workplace resulting in significant job losses. Fire safety rules require the “responsible person” of any non-domestic premises to carry out a fire risk assessment and review this regularly. This will identify what you need to do to prevent fire and keep people safe. You should also minimise the risk of fire by putting fire prevention measures in place. This includes - understanding potential triggers, installing fire alarms and smoke alarms, along with making and sharing fire safety plans with employees. It’s vital that all employees are aware of the procedures that must be followed in the event of a fire. A fire drill should be carried out at least once a year, and every member of your team should take part.
Display Screen Equipment (DSE)
If employees are required to spend long periods in front of computer screens or other visual display screens, then they should be made aware of the potential risks to their eyes, back and neck. Ongoing assessment and management of the risks associated with DSE is necessary to avoid poor seating and posture, which could result in injury. Employees should also be encouraged to take regular breaks from their computer screens. The Health and Safety Executive advise that DSE users should have a 5 minute break for every 50-60 minutes of work.
Even in offices, manual handling is something that’s encountered on a fairly regular basis. Whether it’s moving desks during an office relocation or lifting heavy boxes of documents, there’s always the potential for injury. This includes musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injuries which can have serious implications for the employer and the person who is injured. To minimise the risk of injury, you should always follow manual handling best practice guidelines and train employees on safe manual handling, including good handling technique for lifting.
Trips and falls
According to legal professionals at Ellis Whittam - “Falling over is the most common office accident and it’s also responsible for causing the most disabling injuries.” Workplace falls are often caused by things like - slipping on wet floors, tripping on electrical wires, and using a chair in place of a ladder. Employers should carry out a risk assessment to identify potential risks and then take sensible measures to protect employees. This may involve - installing additional lighting to ensure that steps are clearly visible, keeping walking surfacing clean and free from clutter, and replacing worn or damaged flooring.
Stress is one of the biggest causes of health problems in the workplace and over 11 million days are lost at work a year because of stress at work. Employers have a duty to provide a safe and healthy environment which also means protecting staff from stress. It is therefore important for employers to carry out a risk assessment and take steps to tackle the work-related causes of stress in its business. Employees should also be encouraged to seek help at the earliest opportunity if they begin to experience stress at work.
Workplace injuries are extremely common and there are potential hazards in every business. Fortunately, most workplace injuries are easily prevented by following the correct health and safety policies. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide employees with a safe and healthy work environment. It’s therefore important for all employers to be aware of the potential risks, and take steps to minimise these and protect employees.
Ella Hendrix is a freelance writer based in the UK and typically focuses on business trends, human resources and digital projects.