Health and safety is often overlooked by businesses that operate from office premises. Indeed, there is a perception that office workers do not have to contend with risk, and that a health and safety policy is therefore unnecessary. However this is not the case.
In reality, office workers face a variety of potential hazards in the workplace. While these hazards may not be as dramatic as those endured by builders or crane operators, they are nonetheless very real. As an employer you have a legal responsibility to provide as safe an environment as possible for your staff. There is a wide range of healthy and safety tasks you should complete, and factors you should consider, in order to achieve this.
Carry out a risk assessment
As an employer, you are legally obliged to carry out a risk assessment. This helps you to identify and mitigate hazards and risks that may affect you, your employees, and members of the public, and is one of the first steps to a successful health and safety policy.
In a risk assessment you should identify ‘hazards’ that could cause harm to any of the three parties outlined above. You should then evaluate the risks that result from these hazards, and develop precautions and processes that help you deal with them. This process should be properly recorded, ready for inspection by the Health and Safety Executive.
Risk assessment need not be a complex process; in fact according to legislation, it simply needs to be “suitable and sufficient” for your business type. There are forms available on the Business Link website to help you carry out this task, and further information is also available in our article on conducting a risk assessment.
Create a health and safety induction
Whenever a new employee joins your firm, you should ensure that they receive a comprehensive health and safety induction commensurate with the risks posed by their job.
While there are obviously fewer risks associated with office work than, say, with a job in a nuclear power plant, it is still important that each worker is aware of the potential dangers and is aware of procedure and policy. This will help you to fulfil your legal obligations as an employer.
Health and safety inductions are often given via a PowerPoint presentation that draws attention to the main hazards with which the worker will have to contend. Once the employee has received their induction, you may then consider testing them on its contents. But what are the hazards of which you and your employees should be aware?
- Tripping. Stray cables and similar hazards might seem inconsequential, but they are actually responsible for a remarkably high proportion of workplace accidents. Make sure that you minimise any tripping hazards, and that employees are aware of any such hazards that remain.
- Bending and lifting. If their work requires them to lift heavy objects, you should make sure that new and existing employees are properly trained. Poor lifting technique can cause serious and lasting back injuries – injuries for which you may be held responsible in some circumstances.
- Repetitive strain injuries. RSI was the object of ridicule in the past, but has now been acknowledged as a serious risk to employees that perform repetitive tasks like data entry. Make sure that your workforce is aware of this risk, and that they are provided with equipment like wrist supports to help avoid injuries.
- VDU issues. If employees are required to spend long periods in front of computer screens or other visual display units (VDUs), they should be made aware of the potential risks to their backs, necks and eyes. Although there has been no proven link between VDU use and eye damage, employees should be encouraged to take regular breaks from staring at their computer screens. According to the Health and Safety Executive, workers should have a 5 minute break for every 50-60 minutes of such work.
It is vital that every one of your employees is aware of the procedure 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 firm should take part.
Before drills take place, you should make sure that every employee knows:
- how to report a fire and raise the alarm;
- how to find and use fire extinguishers and other equipment;
- how to inform the fire brigade;
- how to evacuate the building, avoiding lifts where relevant;
- and where to assemble once they have evacuated.
You must also appoint at least one ‘responsible person’ who will be charged with overseeing the evacuation and helping to control fire-prevention systems. These individuals will require extra training to ensure that they can carry out their duties properly. Look out for an article on fire training on Simply Business soon.
Keep testing employees
Finally, it is important that your employees remain familiar with your health and safety policies. As well as ensuring that these are written down and easily available, for example on a company Intranet, you should consider testing your employees regularly. This can help to refresh their knowledge of procedure, and to make sure that they remain aware of the risks with which they have to contend. Most workplace accidents are caused by complacency, but this can be avoided through regular testing.
Health and safety should be a primary concern for all employers. Taking the time to ensure that your employees are properly trained and aware of workplace risk can help to minimise the potential for accidents – and, as a result, help you to maintain a healthy workforce.