Health & Safety for office workers

Many employers in office-based businesses tend to have a relaxed attitude to Workplace Health & Safety.

They think that if there are no ladders to fall off or machines to get limbs caught in, then there’s nothing to worry about.

But Health & Safety legislation is broader than you may think. Did you know that it covers, for example, the risk of bullying and harassment?

Indeed, regulations are having an increasingly big impact on the liability of employers from all sectors and recent legal developments have significantly upped the ante.

Increasingly tough penalties are being handed out for breaching Health & Safety law. More cases are being tried in courts with higher fines and longer jail terms for employers who ignore the welfare of their workers or the public. In fact, last year saw 19 fines of £1m or more. This compares with just three £1m plus fines in 2015 and none in 2014.

Office workers are twice as likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers

So, any director or manager of an office based, professional services organisation who thinks Health & Safety law doesn’t really apply to them needs to think again!

Employers’ duties

Employers must provide employees with a safe and healthy work environment. This duty also extends to anyone who visits the workplace such as clients, contractors or members of the public.

All employers – whatever their business and whatever the level of risk – must:

  • prepare a Health & Safety policy (and review and revise it as often as necessary)
  • design, provide and maintain workplaces that are safe and without risk to health
  • appoint a Competent Person to help manage risks and keep up with the law – this person must have the necessary Health & Safety skills, knowledge and experience
  • identify any actual or potential hazards
  • take necessary steps to remove risks, or if that’s not possible, reduce them as far as possible
  • make sure safe working practices are developed and put in place
  • reduce the risk of bullying and harassment – employers must ensure an employee’s physical or mental health is not adversely affected by anything or anyone
  • provide adequate first aid facilities
  • provide employees with adequate and relevant Health & Safety information, instructions and training
  • have suitable emergency procedures including evacuation of the workplace
  • ensure ventilation, temperature, lighting, toilet, washing and rest facilities meet required health, safety and welfare standards
  • ensure appropriate work equipment is provided, properly used and regularly maintained
  • take reasonable steps to avoid dangerous manual handling including providing manual handling training where required
  • report to the authorities and maintain records of accidents and injuries

Unsurprisingly, many employers fail to realise the extent of their duties!

Office environments

For most of us working in the professional services sector or performing other office-based activities, the environment presents potential injuries unique from other lines of work.

You’re usually in a seated position at your desk most of the day, typing on a computer. This can lead to visual, musculoskeletal and/or psychological problems.

Risk assessments are therefore essential to designing safe workplaces and systems of work. Ongoing assessment and management of the risks associated with display screen equipment (DSE) is vital in avoiding poor seating and posture.

Other injuries typically arise from mistakes including:

  • objects being left out to trip over
  • ill-maintained furniture
  • faulty electrical cords
  • poor ventilation, lighting or air quality
  • bumping into desks (and keys still in the locks on drawers), people, filing cabinets, copy machines, etc.
  • items being dropped on feet, doors opening unexpectedly or improperly balanced cabinets
  • getting fingers or hair caught in drawers, office machines etc.
  • lifting – even small loads such as file bundles can lead to injury if lifted improperly

Falling over is the most common office accident and it’s also responsible for causing the most disabling injuries. As already stated, office workers are twice as likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers.

Office falls are frequently caused by:

  • tripping over open desk or file drawers, electrical cords or wires, loose carpeting or objects in walkways
  • bending or reaching for something while seated in an unstable chair
  • using a chair in place of a ladder
  • slipping on wet floors
  • inadequate lighting

The good news is most office injuries are easily prevented – provided of course Health & Safety is taken seriously!

Workplace stress for professional services

Work-related stress should be a key concern of professional services organisations.

Professional occupations have significantly higher rates of work-related stress than other occupations. In 2014-16, whereas all occupations combined had 1,230 cases per 100,000 employed, in professional service organisations that figure rose to 1,980 cases per 100,000 employed.

High fliers and senior management are not immune either. High profile instances include Barclays former head of global compliance Sir Hector Sants who resigned citing ‘exhaustion and stress’. Lloyds Banking Group chief Antonio Horta-Osorio was out of office for similar reasons.

There are increasing numbers of stress compensation claims and the courts use Health & Safety regulations to decide whether employers should pay compensation.

Although there’s no specific law dealing with workplace stress, the duty to provide a safe and healthy environment means employers must protect staff from stress by doing a risk assessment and acting on it.

Importance of Health & Safety

It’s a legal requirement that formal Health & Safety policies and safe systems of work are designed and put in place. And while Health & Safety isn’t seen as an income generator, there are undoubtedly huge benefits to providing a safe and comfortable workplace.

Contact Ellis Whittam to find out more about how you can reduce risk in your seemingly safe workplace!