General Office Safety
An office does not have an agreed definition, but it is normally regarded as a place of work where clerical and administrative work activities are carried out. Health and safety issues such as noise, thermal comfort, lighting and ergonomics apply to a variety of workplaces as uygwell as offices; therefore the definition of an office should not be interpreted too narrowly.
Office work is relatively safe, and accident rates are low. There are a number of office health and safety issues over which some control will need to be exercised. Most or all of the areas highlighted below will have some bearing on the health, safety and wellbeing of office occupants.
1. GENERAL SAFETY REQUIREMENTS
1.1. Safety Policy
The university requires each unit to have a local policy with arrangements for safety and must also assign specific roles and responsibilities. The policy must show the following:
- A policy statement – signed and dated by the person with ultimate responsibility
- An organisation section - which describes the general health and safety responsibilities of managers and staff at all level
- An arrangements section - site specific health and safety procedures and arrangements that ensure effective implementation of the health safety policy statement
1.2. Induction Training
All new members of staff, are required to complete the University's Health and Safety Online Induction. The purpose is to ensure they are aware of their health and safety responsibilities and remain safe during the course of their employment.
It is important that management units also take steps to formalise the information given to new members, by their immediate manager or local Safety Coordinator, by having a local safety induction. This should include site orientation, fire evacuation procedures, accident reporting, location of first aiders, site rules and results of any risk assessments that have been undertaken.
Records of this training must be kept as evidence that this training has been given and to assist in identifying any future training needs.
1.3. Law Poster
The ‘Health and Safety Law – What you should know’ poster must be displayed in a common area accessible to all staff. This poster is available for purchase from the HSE website.
1.4. Employers’ Liability insurance certificate
The University’s current Employers’ Liability certificate, must be displayed as required by the Employer’s Liability (compulsory Insurance) Act 1969. A copy can be downloaded from the Finance website.
1.5. Accident Reporting
All accidents, however small must be reported and an accident report form completed. Incidents that have not caused injury but had the potential to cause harm must also be reported, as well as incidents of ill health that are work related.
All employees should be made aware of:
- The location of accident reporting books,
- system for reporting defects to equipment or buildings to departmental personnel
- system for reporting defects to Estates and Buildings helpdesk
Absence from work as a result of any accident or occupational ill health should be reported to SEPS promptly to ensure that the requirements of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations are complied with.
2. TYPICAL OFFICE HAZARDS
2.1. Generic Office Risk assessment
Line management should ensure that at least a generic risk assessment of the office has been undertaken. Ensure that all relevant risk assessments are drawn to the attention of new personnel.
In addition to a general risk assessment, other assessments may need to be undertaken for specific hazards such as manual handling, chemicals (COSHH), Display Screen Equipment (DSE) etc. This will be determined by the relevant legal requirements and the HSE Approved Code of Practise. Some hazardous work equipment or processes may also require written instructions on how to operate safely.
In other instances a specific risk assessment will be necessary when a member of staff reports that they are pregnant, or if a young person (between the ages of 16 and 18), starts work or work experience.
Risk assessments need regular review, for example in the event of a change of location, a change of process or new staff.
2.2. Computer Workstation
The Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992 require that all workstations including the use of laptops is assessed to ensure compliance with minimum requirements as set out in the DSE regulations. The risk associated with computer work can be a significant risk in office environments resulting in musculoskeletal problems such as back and neck pain.
The is an online DSE Awareness module on Moodle that offers guidance on how to set up a typical workstation
Computer Workstation Assessment (DSE Assessment)
2.3. Manual Handling and Lifting
A common perception is that manual handling risks typically exist only within physical working environments such as warehouses or factories. In reality it can still be a risk in office environments from heavy packages and bulk stationery. A serious back injury could cause substantial pain and can be extremely debilitating.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations of 1992 requires employers to:
- Avoid manual handling activities
- Where manual handling activities cannot be avoided they must be assessed to reduce risk as far as reasonably practicable
- Provide instruction and training to staff on the risks and control measures
SEPS offer Manual Handling courses that will provide some basic skills, which if implemented, may help to prevent injury.
2.4. Office Machinery
This includes such items as shredders, photocopiers, guillotines etc. If your office has any equipment like this, it is important that it is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and, if necessary, serviced regularly. Equally, anyone using office equipment should know how to use it safely and how to get faults reported so they can be repaired by qualified professionals.
2.5. Electrical Safety
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 requires that all portable electrical equipment (i.e. any equipment supplied from a mains socket via a plug) should be tested at regular intervals. Usually an occasional visual check is all that is required to identify the majority of faults. However some medium to high risk portable electrical equipment should also be tested periodically by a competent person.
The integrity and safety of the electricity supply into a building to the electrical socket outlet is the responsibility of Estates and Building.
2.6. Workplace Stress
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) define stress as "the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them". There is a growing awareness of the importance of health and safety and recognition that healthy employees make a greater contribution to a business.
As an employer, you have duties under Management at work Regulations to assess and take measures to control risks from work-related stress.
2.7. Slips, Trips and Falls
The most common causes of accidents, not just in the university but in all industries are slips, trips and falls. It is the responsibility of line management to assess the workplace and ensure that this hazard has been eliminated or minimised, where possible. The main causes of slip, trips and falls are:
Spills - Ensure all spills are cleaned up and staff warned if the risk persists
Floor covering - Ensure all floor covering are slip resistant if possible. All defects must be reported defects promptly to Estates and Building for repair e.g. raised carpets, uneven surfaces etc
Good Housekeeping - Avoid obstruction the aisles and walkways with materials. All cables should be managed to ensure that the risk of tripping iss minimised. Request additional plug points from E&B, if necessary , to eliminate the need to use extension cords.
Accident Investigation - Investigate and follow up accidents so as to identify any problems and avoid repeat accidents
Workplace Inspections - Conduct periodic workplace inspections in order to proactively identify hazards such as mossy or icy doorways.
3. FIRE AND EMERGENCY ARRANGEMENTS
All University staff members need to be know what they are expected to do the event of an emergency or serious occurrence.
3.1. Fire Safety
Rubbish and temporary storage of material in offices presents a fire hazard as well as a tripping hazard if near walkways. These can be avoided by implementing a good housekeeping policy.
Combustible refuse awaiting disposal should be stored properly in a designated spot set aside for this purpose away from the immediate workplace. Contact E&B to make arrangements pickup.
Fire routes and exits must display adequate signage and kept clear at all times, especially of combustible materials and sources of ignition. Fire doors should be kept shut as appropriate and never wedged or propped open. The university provide fire training for all staff that includes what to do if they discover a fire. Line Managers should ensure that all staff have undertaken online fire training provided by the University.
3.3. Personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP)
This is a plan tailored to meet the needs of a staff member or student who requires special provision to ensure safety in the event of an emergency evacuation for whatever cause. The plan is prepared in consultation with the person concerned and tailored to their individual need. A PEEP may be required for individuals who are experiencing impairment (mobility, hearing, vision, cognitive), medical conditions, or short-term injuries/illnesses, or who have additional needs.
3.2. First Aid Arrangements
The Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 requires employers to assess the level of risk and identify suitable first aid provisions for their departments. In addition, all staff must be made aware of the first aid arrangements including:
a) location of first aid box,
b) location of notices bearing details of qualified First Aiders,
c) means of obtaining first aid assistance,
d) arrangements for occupational health surveillance and;
e) any other relevant information.
4. WELFARE FACILITIES and ARRANGEMENTS
Welfare facilities include the provision of adequate toilet and washing facilities. The facilities should be in sufficient numbers and be clean, well maintained and have adequate ventilation. Hot and cold water, soap and hand drying facilities should also be in place. The provision of suitable drinking water is also a statutory requirement.
4.1. Workplace Stress
The university has a stress policy that is supported by a number of associated documents. A guide is available for all staff on dealing and coping with stress. There are additional documents aimed at managers on the practical implementation of the policy and how the effects of stress should be considered during the decision making process.
Offices require sufficient light to enable work to be undertaken without risks to the occupants. Lighting should not be so bright that the contrast between screen characters is diminished or so dark that it is difficult to see to work. A lighting intensity of between 300 and 500 Lux measured horizontally at the work surface height is considered satisfactory for a combination of screen work and non-screen tasks. Room and task lighting e.g. desk lamps must be suitable and sufficient for the work process. SEPS can provide advice regarding the monitoring of light levels if necessary.
All offices should have a means of ventilation to provide a sufficient quantity of fresh air whether by simply opening a window or a mechanical air conditioning unit. Ventilation should also remove and dilute warm, humid air and provide air movement which gives a sense of freshness without causing a draught. The HSE Approved Code of Practice recommends air changes of 5 - 8 litres per second (18 – 19 m3/hr)
Environmental factors (such as humidity and sources of heat in the workplace) combine with personal factors (such as the clothing a worker is wearing and how physically demanding their work is) to influence what is called someone’s ‘thermal comfort’. Individual personal preference makes it difficult to specify a thermal environment which satisfies everyone. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, simply state that the temperature in the workplace ‘shall be reasonable’. For workplaces where the activity is mainly sedentary, for example offices, the temperature should normally be at least 16 °C. However, thermal comfort is subjective and you need to consider other factors such as air movement and relative humidity.
4.5. Rest and Eating
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, state that workers should be provided with a suitable and sufficient place to rest. Where workers regularly eat meals at work, suitable and sufficient facilities should also be provided for getting a hot drink e.g. kettle or vending machine . Where hot food cannot be obtained in or reasonably near to the workplace, workers may need to be provided with a means for heating their own food (eg microwave oven).
However “clean” work areas such as offices can also be counted as rest areas and as eating facilities, provided they are adequately clean and there is a suitable surface on which to place food.
4.6. Space and Dimensions
Workrooms should have enough free space to allow people to get to and from workstations and to move with ease within the room. HSE Approved code of practise recommends that each person should be allocated at least 11 cubic metres. This is determined by dividing the total volume of the room, when empty, by the number of people normally working in it
The number of people who may work in any particular room at any one time will depend not only on the size of the room, but on the space taken up by furniture, fittings, equipment, and the general layout of the room.
5. SAFETY ADMINISTRATION
5.1. Record Keeping
Departments should retain records of induction training of new workers for future reference. The upkeep of records, including training information, is becoming more important as units need to be able to demonstrate to external organisations that suitable verifiable managerial systems are in place e.g. Health and Safety Executive Inspectors, Insurance Auditors, Insurance Claims Inspectors etc.
5.2. Workplace inspections
Offices generally are not risky places to work but this can sometimes lead to a certain amount of complacency. Managers should be proactive and arrange regular workplace inspections. This may be every six months, or perhaps annually, depending on the level of risk. Inspections are an essential part of safety management and are evidence of a commitment to good health and safety practice.