Offices - more hazardous than you’d think

While offices can be considered as fairly low-risk environments there are of course still many potential hazards and regulations to comply with.

The key first step to deal with those hazards is to carry out a thorough risk assessment in line with the HSE’s Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Once hazards are identified and steps taken to minimise and mitigate them, the next job on the safety list is to clearly signpost and label them. For this task, employers should consult the HSE’s Safety Signs and Signals Regulations 1996. Once you know the signage you need, it’s very easy to actually create and print them.

To help get you started, here are a few tips on common but easily overlooked office safety matters.

Fire safety: Fires may not be common in offices but as with any premises, it’s a very serious and very real hazard. Employers have a duty to check power cables, wires, plugs and other electrical items to see that they’re in good working order and outlets are not overloaded.

Fire safety can be improved in the office by providing staff with basic training and instructions on using a fire extinguisher. When it comes to signage there is a requirement for the use of the colour red to indicate the location of firefighting equipment. HSE also states that signage must be sufficiently large to allow the location of the firefighting equipment to be easily determined.

We also recommend to use durable A3 signage or labels to ensure clear visibility in the office. Note that if your office firefighting equipment is hidden from direct view, perhaps in an alcove or storage area, you must indicate its location using appropriate directional arrows, together with the relevant firefighting equipment signage.

Fire safety can be improved in the office by providing staff with basic training and instructions on using a fire extinguisher. Photograph: iStock

Be GHS compliant: Globally Harmonized System of the Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) compliance can be overlooked in offices, where hazardous chemicals aren’t commonplace. However, GHS label compliance is required by end users even for chemical formulations bought in bulk containers, such as barrels of sanitiser or cleaning solutions transferred to smaller ‘down-packed’ containers, including spray bottles, for portable use.

Such formulations include common compounds that can be dangerous or deadly in the wrong combination, like bleach and ammonia, or flammable paints and oxidisers. It’s important to note that instead of the familiar black and white pictogram symbols previously used in safety labelling, GHS labels now require pictogram symbols that convey hazard information with a red diamond border. GHS label information is critical, for both compliance and safety.

Access and egress: Careful consideration needs to be given to what would happen in the event of an emergency and how workers would safely exit the office. Employers need to stress to staff that fire doors must be kept clear and free of obstacles such as piles and boxes. Carrying out proper fire drills where all staff must evacuate is crucial too. These can be unpopular with busy employees, but they could help save lives in the future.

In terms of signage, all emergency exits should be properly marked, and all employees should know where the nearest exit can be found. According to HSE this signage can be rectangular or square in shape and must feature a white pictogram on a green background (the green part to take up at least 50% of the area of the sign).

Maintaining standards: Once you’ve ticked off risk assessment and affixed the appropriate warning signage, it can be easy to forget about maintenance. Employers are required to uphold office safety standards with regular risk assessments and by ensuring the safety signage provided is still clear and easy to read. Safety signage or labelling can become hard to read through sun damage, moisture exposure and spills, so Avery recommends you look for durable, water and UV resistant options to help ensure compliance and keep hazards clearly pointed out.

A checklist of other common office hazards

Refer to each item on this checklist when considering the health and safety levels at your office:

  • Slips and trips
  • Misuse of office equipment
  • Manual handling and lifting
  • Ergonomic injuries and repetitive stressors
  • Air quality
  • Environmental toxins
  • Electrical faults
  • Asbestos

More about H&S in offices at: hse.gov.uk/office

Fiona Mills is Marketing director at Avery UK