Safety and Health at Work

Learn how to ensure safety and health in the office, why this is important and how to create a sustainable culture of safety at your workplace.

Are offices really safe?


Compared to a construction site, production facility or chemical laboratory, most offices are considered a safe environment. However, some offices still have an overwhelming amount of incidents and accidents at their workplace, which is due to the lack of a strong safety culture in the office. For this reason, office workers should know the basics of safety and health in the office and understand their importance. As an employee, you will find all the important information about safety and health at work and ideas for implementation in this article.



Why is safety and health in the office important?


Ideally, every office worker should return home healthily. Often, employees ignore poor ergonomic conditions in the office, exposing them to an increased risk of long-term injuries and illness - factors that threaten not only their livelihood but also the way they live in the years ahead. For this very reason, employers should be committed to maintaining adequate safety and health protocols in the office to ensure the long-term well-being of all employees as well as the company as a whole.

 

Every company should consider it their legal and moral duty, to ensure that employees are educated about the many hazards in the office that many workers may not be aware of, such as noise, poor ergonomics, damaged electrical wiring, non-functioning fire extinguishers and lack of emergency plans. Tens of thousands of office workers are already suffering from injuries or work-related health problems that could have been avoided if the employees had received proper training and education.


A safe and healthy office is beneficial to both the company and its employees by ensuring:


  • Improve productivity and product and service quality

    Companies that allocate resources for the job security of their employees helps to reduce absenteeism and staff turnover, which can have a major impact on productivity.


  • Protect the company's reputation
    Nowadays anyone can easily publish a company review on Glassdoor or Indeed. Whether it is based on a fact or not, it can instantly destroy a company's reputation and reject quality candidates, and to avoid this, companies should really invest in a healthy and safe work environment. In the long run, this helps employees to have a positive view of the companies' aims. This positive reputation will not only attract qualified candidates, but will also improve employee retention because they know that their company is a good place to work.

  • Employees and employers save costs
    An injured worker usually mean hundreds of lost working hours and can quickly add up to billions of dollars in expenses provided by the company as well as  insurance costs. Moreover, a critical part of that injured worker's life is lost because he or she is forced to adopt a new lifestyle. With a well implemented safety and health policy in the office, companies can help prevent injuries and fatal accidents that have huge financial implications not only for the company but also for the employees involved and their families.

  • Promote a culture of improvement
    Workplace safety is not just about safety incidents and the costs associated with them; a safety-conscious working environment is also a way of developping an attitude of improvement.
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    In the following section, we now highlight important information on the legal basis for workplace safety and health.



Which regulatory authorities regulate safety and health in the office?


International and national regulatory authorities have been institutionalised to ensure that occupational safety and health policies and laws are developed and properly implemented. Together, these regulators help to monitor and supervise organisations as to how they respect statutory work requirements in practice and in principle.


International Labour Organization (ILO)


For the monitoring of international labour standards, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is responsible for bringing together the governments, employers and workers of its 187 member states to establish and promote decent and equal labour standards. As a specialized agency of the United Nations, its mission is to promote social justice and internationally recognized human and labour rights.


While there are internationally recognized safety and health practices of the agencies, laws and regulations may still vary at the national level, as each country has its approach to enforcement.


Administration for Safety and Health at Work (OSHA) | USA


When President Richard Nixon enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established as the agency empowered to enforce occupational safety and health standards and regulate private employers in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and other areas.


Executive for Safety and Health at Work (HSE) | Great Britain


In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulatory authority for health and safety at work. It enforces local health and safety regulations, such as the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974 and The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995.


The Commonwealth, States and Territories | Australia


Safe Work Australia, a statutory agency established in 2009, leads the development of national health, safety and remuneration policies across Australia. However, unlike the US and UK, Safe Work Australia is not responsible for policy enforcement but is administered by the Commonwealth, States and Territories. The specific health and safety laws, regulations and codes of practice for each Australian state and territory can be found here.


Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs | Germany

 

The Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), with its main and subsidiary offices in Berlin and Bonn, is responsible for labour market policy, labour law and occupational health and safety as well as for pensions and social security. The BMAS creates solutions and measures for social integration and framework conditions for more employment. To this end, it cooperates above all with the Committee for Labour and Social Affairs.


European directives on safety and health at work| EU-OSHA


EU-OSHA is a European Union agency that provides information on safety and health at work. The Agency's main aim is to make European workplaces safer, healthier and more productive. With a focus on risk prevention, it aims to improve working conditions in Europe.

 

EU Member States are obliged to transpose directives on labour law laid down by the European Union within a specified period. The directives deal with aspects of safety and health at work. Member States can set stricter rules for the protection of workers when transposing the directives, so there are variations from country to country.



Identifying hazards in the office


Risk assessments in the office are an effective means of addressing health and safety issues within an office environment. This process begins with the identification of hazards, i.e. the identification of objects, situations or activities that could potentially harm employees.


There are various methods of risk assessment, such as comprehensive security inspections, review of historical data and analysis of occupational safety. However, to identify these hazards correctly, it is important to know the types of hazards that can endanger workplace safety.


In order to properly conduct risk assessment in the office, it is important that employees understand the basics of workplace hazard identification. The following is a breakdown of the main types of safety and health risks in the office and how to manage them.



Physical hazards in the office


A very common physical hazard in the office are temperature, air quality, ventilation, noise as well as slipping, tripping and falling. The risks associated with each of these physical hazards and ways to manage them are listed below:


1. Temperature


Temperatures where employees feel uncomfortable can lead to low productivity and morale. Employers and managers have a responsibility to deal with this health risk in the office and to make sure that employees are as comfortable as possible.


How to manage the risk:


  • Ask your employees what they think is the correct temperature for their work area.

  • Remind employees to wear appropriate clothing in the office, especially during the summer and winter seasons.

  • Regularly check that the air conditioning is working properly and regulate it accordingly.

  • Prevent direct sunlight at workplaces with blinds and slats.

  • Observe the guidelines for temperature control in the workplace in your country.
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  • Optimize the room temperature according to the office equipment.

2. Indoor air quality and ventilation


It is important for employers to pay more attention to indoor ventilation and air quality, because poor air conditions lead to fatigue, occupational asthma, allergies and other respiratory diseases. Overcrowding in offices in particular, but also restricted air circulation, poor housekeeping and inadequate ventilation lead to a deterioration in air quality.


How to manage the risk:


  • Check the air quality in the offices to assess compliance with air pollution limits.

  • Ensure that proper maintenance, cleaning and filtering of the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems is carried out regularly.

  • Plan the office budget.

  • Follow the guidelines for smoking in offices and buildings.

  • If there is an office kitchen, remind employees to store food properly and throw it away before it spoils.

3. Noise


Noise affects health and safety at work by increasing stress levels, reducing concentration and causing hearing loss.


How to manage the risk:


  • Stay within the acceptable sound level limits set by the applicable health and safety laws in your country.
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  • Identify sound sources, paths and levels. Once identified, regulate the most excessive sound levels.
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  • Noise barriers or curtains can be used to create a barrier between the noise source and your employees.

  • Perform regular maintenance on machinery and equipment. Consider installing silencers, vibration isolators or duct silencers.

4. Accidents in the workplace


Three of the typical workplace accidents are: slipping, tripping and falling.  Slipping occurs when a person's foot loses contact with the ground; tripping occurs when a person unexpectedly touches an object or surface with their foot; and falls can be caused by a slip or trip, but many falls also occur through holes in the ground, ditches, and waterways in the work area.


How to deal with the risks:


  • If possible, eliminate hazards such as uneven floors during office construction and have additional power outlets installed to avoid cable runs.

  • Keep walkways and corridors free of debris, clutter and obstacles.

  • Consider installing non-slip mats or replacing worn floor panels.

  • Place warning signs on a freshly wiped floor or if you spill something to avoid incidents.

  • Repair leaks in equipment or pipes immediately.

Click here to download customizable workplace safety checklists.


5. Biological hazards in the office


Biological hazards or biohazards are organic substances that pose a threat to the health of an employee. These include:


  • Moulds/fungi

  • Spores

  • Pathogenic microorganisms

  • Waste

  • Blood or other body fluids/tissues

  • Medicines/cytotoxic substances

Typically, biohazards are assumed to be limited to workplaces such as laboratories or factories, but they can also be found in apparently comfortable offices. Dealing with such hazards in an office environment is critical, as they can quickly get out of control, causing problems with local health and corporate regulators.


How to deal with the risk of biological hazards:


  • Regularly dispose of any items that pose a biological risk
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  • Implement regular pest control services
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  • Check the ventilation in the office regularly
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  • Provide suitable respiratory protective equipment
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  • Carry out awareness campaigns on the different types of biological hazards in the workplace
 

Ergonomics in the office


Office workers spend many hours a day sitting at their desks, often resulting in strains and other injuries due to unidentified ergonomic hazards. Ergonomic hazards are usually the hardest to identify because workers do not always immediately feel the effects of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The most common injuries are muscle strains, rotator cuff injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and tendonitis. Long-term exposure to ergonomic hazards can result in serious long-term consequences for the employee, and the employer loses hours of work and millions in insurance costs.


Some ergonomic hazards that can be seen in the office are:


  • Poor posture

  • Frequent lifting of crates and files and improper lifting

  • Improperly adjusted workplace and chairs

  • Excessive or prolonged exposure to vibration
 

How to counteract ergonomic dangers in the office:


  • Conduct ergonomic assessments to identify injury risks and ensure that the environment is as comfortable and productive as possible.

  • Carefully select materials, lighting and interior layout during the design phase. Make sure that workspaces are designed to support neutral ergonomic positions.

  • Follow the 10 ergonomic principles.

  • Ensure that employees have the right equipment and tools to do their job comfortably.

  • Promote early reporting of MSD symptoms.

  • Evaluate the progress of established ergonomic process correction procedures to ensure long-term success.

  • Develop office fitness programs that educate employees about the importance of exercise or stretching to prevent MSDs.

Click here to download customisable ergonomics assessment checklists.



Fire safety in the office


Fire protection is of utmost importance in every office. A fire in an office can be devastating not only for the employees but also for the public. It can lead to injuries and even death - not to mention costly property damage.


What are the usual fire hazards in the office?


It's easy not to take the fire hazard in the office seriously, so fires often occur that could have been easily bypassed, but which can pose a serious threat to occupational safety and health. Here are the five most common fire hazards that employees should be aware of:


  1. Smoking
    Discarded cigarette butts that have not been completely extinguished or have been thrown away near flammable materials can cause a fire, especially under the right conditions (dry weather and some wind).
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  3. Overheated computer and kitchen equipment
    Many offices today have cooking facilities, be it an oven, stove or microwave. If it is turned on, left unattended and/or used unsafely, it can cause a fire.
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  5. Overloading of sockets
    Connecting too many appliances or equipment to one outlet and improper use of extension cords may cause the outlets to overheat and catch fire. Care should be taken to ensure that the current is evenly distributed and that not too many devices are connected and in operation at the same time.

  6. Blocked walkways and fire escapes
    It is important that all office corridors and aisles are kept clear and that access to fire escapes is not restricted, as a blockade could delay the evacuation of a building. Furniture and other items must not be placed near or in front of fire doors, as they must be accessible at all times.

  7. Lack of an emergency plan
    Fire emergency action plans define how to safely evacuate in an emergency, where to gather after evacuation and who will perform certain critical functions. In the event of an emergency in an office building, a clear emergency action plan is essential to avoid panic, which can lead to fatal consequences.

How to ensure fire safety in the office:


  • Conduct a comprehensive fire risk assessment to get an overview of the current state of fire safety in the office.

  • Train your staff on emergency procedures, exit points, escape routes, fire alarms and drills, and the use of fire extinguishers.

  • Conduct regular fire drills.

  • Remind employees to report damaged electrical cables, wires, sockets and ducts immediately.

  • Ensure that exits are not blocked.

  • Ensure that smoke detectors and proper sprinkler systems are installed and functioning properly.

  • Ensure that fire extinguishers are checked regularly and properly.

  • Use a checklist to ensure that all critical fire extinguisher inspection items are covered.

  • Ensure that your office is accessible so that disabled people can get to safety in the event of a fire.

Click here to download the fire risk assessment checklists.



Electrical workplace safety


Almost all office work today is done with equipment that runs on electricity. Devices such as photocopiers, laptops, kettle cords and power switches can cause burns and electric shocks due to a defect or wetness. Office workers who are not adequately trained in electrical safety are at a higher risk of such injuries or worse, death.


What are the most common electrical hazards in the office?


  • Faulty wiring and damaged equipment
    Exposure to defective power tools (e.g. those with the wrong size and inadequate insulation) can be dangerous for office workers, as it can lead to fire and electric shock.

  • Overloaded outlets
    As mentioned above, too many devices connected to a power outlet can cause overheating and power shortages. Overloading of sockets exposes the cables to extreme temperatures, which can cause the wires to melt and cause a fire in the surrounding area.

  • Improper grounding
    Unearthed sockets are easily distinguished from earthed ones; the former have a two-pole socket, while the latter has a three-pole socket with a third "hole" (the round hole) into which the earthing plug fits. Electrical appliances should be earthed (an "earth" or wire should be placed between an electrical appliance and earth) to provide a low impedance path for conducting current to earth. Unearthed installations can be dangerous for the office and its occupants, as they can cause electric shock to employees and short-circuit computers and other equipment.

  • Wetness
    Employees often receive an electric shock if they touch sockets or electrical equipment with wet hands. The point is that water itself is not an electrical conductor, but if it contains minerals (metallic solids) or comes into contact with the body (which most likely can contain salt), then water becomes a significant conductor.

  • Inadequate education
    Insufficient training on electrical safety is one of the main reasons why the above-mentioned electrical hazards are still prevalent in the office. It is important that well planned safety seminars and supplementary information are provided to ensure that the risk of electrical hazards is reduced.

Electrical workplace safety tips:


  • Ensure that all electrical equipment is certified by a nationally recognized laboratory and carefully read all manufacturers' instructions.

  • Encourage the use of electrical inspection checklists and add all necessary elements for an effective electrical safety walk-through.

  • Inspect thoroughly at least once a month for cracks, cuts or abrasions on cables, wires and cords.

  • Perform regular fire risk assessments to identify areas where there is a risk of poor wiring and faulty circuits.

  • Unplug equipment when not in use to save energy and minimize the risk of electric shock and fire.

  • Avoid overloading outlets with too many appliances. Never plug more than one high voltage device into an outlet at a time.

  • Place power strips in places with good air circulation to distribute heat.

  • Do not tie, bend or knot electrical cables.

  • Never run electrical cables through high traffic areas, under carpets or over doorways.

  • If your computer screen flickers or fades, or if you notice a burnt smell, turn off the power and contact the building technician immediately.

  • Consider having a licensed electrician install additional outlets if needed, rather than relying on extension cords and power strips.

Click here to download the electrical inspection checklists.



Office Household


Office housekeeping is a systematic process to make an office environment clean and tidy. An effective office budgeting program is an important element of occupational health and safety, as it promotes a clean and organized office, which in turn provides the following benefits to the company:


  • Employees can find items more easily

  • Objects that are no longer useful are disposed of more quickly

  • Lower fire risk due to less disorder

  • Less material damage

  • Improved space utilization

  • Clean atmosphere

  • Improved work morale

 

What are OSHA's minimum office budget requirements?


  • Implement and maintain good housekeeping practices.

  • Remove slippery hazards such as snow, ice, and grease from sidewalks and work surfaces as needed. If removal is not possible, limit access to these areas and provide an alternative route or non-slip footwear.

  • Ensure easy and open access to all exits (including ladders, stairs, scaffolding and catwalks), fire detection boxes, fire extinguishers and fire detection points.
  • Maintain aisles in such a way that they provide adequate passage and are (a) free of debris, (b) free of tools, materials, equipment and other items, and (c) free of tripping hazards due to improper storage or placement of hoses and electrical connection cables.

  • Block all parts of the walkway used as a work surface.

  • Ensure that work surfaces are free from all tools, materials and equipment that are not necessary for the work in progress. At the end of the work or work shift, whichever comes first, all waste, including liquid and solid waste, must be disposed of.

  • Keep work surfaces dry whenever possible. If a wet method is used, the surface must be dried if possible and dry standing areas must be provided, or workers must be equipped with protective shoes.

Click here to download the checklists for maintenance of workstations.



Emergency precautions and first aid at the workplace


The measures taken in the first minutes of an emergency are crucial. An immediate warning to staff, for evacuation, can save lives. Public emergency services should be contacted immediately with complete and accurate information in case of an emergency. Therefore, an employee trained to perform first aid or CPR can save lives. Action by employees with knowledge of building and process systems can also help to control a leak and minimize damage to the facility, the environment and the people inside.


Things to consider in an office emergency:


  • the provision of and access to first aid equipment and facilities.

  • that a sufficient number of workers (or other persons) have been trained to provide first aid.

The requirements for first aid may vary depending on the workplace. Attention should be paid to this:

 
  • The nature of the work

  • The nature of the existing risks

  • The size, location, number and composition of people in the workplace

Every office should have these emergency phone numbers handy:


  • Fire and Rescue

  • Doctor and ambulance

Each office must have a contingency plan. This consists of:


  • Proper evacuation procedures

  • Notification of emergency organisations at the earliest opportunity

  • Provision of emergency medical treatment and assistance

  • Effective communication with the person coordinating the emergency response

  • Review emergency procedures, including the frequency of test alarms

  • Information, training and instruction of the employees concerned with regard to the implementation of the emergency procedures

It is also essential that all workers are familiar with emergency procedures, such as:


  • Who to contact in an emergency

  • Telephone numbers for emergencies

  • Evacuation procedures and the designated meeting points

  • The type of extinguisher to be used for different fires

  • The 7-step model for building a sustainable safety culture in the office


Building a sustainable safety culture


Although the risk of health and safety at work in the office is not as serious as in production plants or on construction sites, it is equally serious for the employee and the employer. However, office management should be aware that workplace safety in the office is not just about enforcing policies, but rather about building an effective and sustainable safety culture in the office. Below are 7 ways in which you can help develop a sustainable safety culture in the office:


1. Develop a strategy that is based more on the corporate culture than on guidelines


Office workplaces that really want to solve the root cause of unsafe conditions should recognize that it is more than the "do's and don'ts" and safety conditions they build that will help to improve safety in the office in general. Managers need to develop a strategy to help employees understand the true value of safety and health in the office and motivate them to go beyond compliance.


When people in the office report hazards, give feedback to other employees on safe and dangerous behaviour, volunteer on safety committees and make suggestions for improvement, this is a sign of an effective culture-based strategy.


2. Identify (or create) safety champions in the office


Safety champions in the workplace are the heart and soul of a strong safety culture in the office. They are passionate employees who are prepared to take initiatives and set a good example to their team colleagues.


Identifying and supporting champions helps management teams spread knowledge and enthusiasm throughout the office. They help involve other employees more in workplace health and safety discussions because they have people they can talk to easily and who they can see as role models.


3. Use all media to communicate your goals clearly


Use all possible media, including email newsletters to communicate meetings and bulletin boards, to communicate safety and health objectives in the office on an ongoing basis. Top management must be visible and involved in communication (e.g. direct any communication with a safety message, comment or statement to the entire organisation).


4. Provide regular training


Training is an effective means of informing employees about basic safety knowledge, e.g. correct identification of hazards, risk assessment and incident reporting. They are also a means of gaining real insight from employees and using this to further improve the training approach.


5. Encourage and motivate your employees

 

Motivate your employees to promote the desired behaviour for office safety and health. Rewarding employees who show know-how and initiative will, in the long run, encourage them to set an example and encourage others to do the same.


Celebrate successes, large and small, based on data improvement and office safety audits; communicate the results and praise those responsible. This strategy ensures that office incidents are reduced for the right reasons and encourages employees to go beyond mere compliance.


6. Encourage employees to always have their say


Managers and supervisors should encourage employees to bring in new or traditional ideas to improve workplace safety. Companies should not settle for decades of company policy that may no longer be relevant today. If safety policies are ineffective, employees tend to simply work around them, which can lead to risks.


7. Ensure a timely replacement of security champions


The departure of experienced managers and security champions is unavoidable. In order to cope with this loss, it is important to plan the succession carefully, as this helps to close the competence and knowledge gap between the experienced and younger employees.


Office managers play a crucial role in creating a foundation for a sustainable safety and health culture in the office. Management should ensure that appropriate discussions about work are held regularly to ensure that the culture develops with useful insights from employees. With bottom-up efforts, offices can develop a health and safety culture that will endure.


Creating a working environment with a good safety culture in the office is a responsibility that must be shared by both employers and employees. Management should ensure that it complies with occupational health and safety regulations, while employees should work with their supervisors and always be aware of office hazards. These efforts will help to make your office a place where employees feel that their safety and health is a top priority.



Office Safety and Health Checklist Collection


Lumiform, the mobile inspection application, helps you optimize the safety culture in your office and move to a more modern, paperless environment. Here you will find some of the best digital checklist templates for a secure office that you can download and customize to suit your needs.




Featured templates

General Workplace Safety Checklist

General Workplace Safety Checklist

This general template is used for the evaluation of building and office workplaces. See template

Office Safety Checklist

Office Safety Checklist

This template is used to carry out a security inspection in the office. See template

Comprehensive Office Risk Assessment Template

Comprehensive Office Risk Assessment Template

This comprehensive office risk assessment contains the most basic hazards which need to be evaluated in an office work setup. See template