How to make your office safer

It’s easy to gloss over health and safety risks in the pleasant surroundings of a nice, clean, tidy, well lit, air conditioned office. Yet they’re there. Faulty wiring and untidy electric cords and cables, poor posture at the desk or computer, too much sitting, workplace violence, poorly ventilated equipment rooms, slippery floors around the water cooler or in the kitchen area, chemicals stored insecurely or unsafely in the toilet area, unstable shelving, overloaded filing cabinets and drawers left open obstructing passageways, poorly sterilised or unsterilised telephone handsets and ear pads… It’s scary when you think about it, especially when you’re the leader-manager responsible for a group of people working among all those hazards.

In New Zealand, offices have emergency kits in case of earthquakes and every employee has a small emergency kit in a desk drawer (or at least they’re supposed to and do when the team leader develops a strong safety culture). What about in your office? You may not be in an earthquake zone, but what about a power failure or blackout, a storm, or a siege by an unstable person, as occurred in Martin Place on 15th December 2014, or any number of other emergency situations? Here are some items to think about including in a duffle bag or backpack for your emergency kit (which of course, you will keep handy in case of need):

  • battery operated radio
  • first aid kit
  • lighting (flashlight, glow sticks)
  • list of emergency numbers and other important information
  • water and non-perishable food

What emergency protocols does your work team have in place when employees are unable to attend work due to, say, a ‘flu epidemic, a transport crisis, or a lockdown of the area your office is located in?  When did you last review them together? Have you had a dry run to make sure you’ve covered everything?

Is your fire extinguisher in good working order and readily accessible? When did you last hold a fire drill and conduct a hazard audit? When did you last analyse your accident and incident statistics? When did you last review the health and safety and other risks in your workplace and check that mitigation measures are effective and up-to-date? Have you diarised to take these actions regularly?

Do you have a list of items that require periodic inspections with columns showing serial number, location, date of last inspection, result, inspection notes, and date of next inspection? Include office equipment as well as first aid kits and fire extinguishers on your list.

How do you prevent the spread of infections among your work team? Does your cleaner sterilise door handles, drawer pulls, lift buttons–anything that receives multiple uses by multiple hands? Do you provide antibacterial wipes so employees can keep their workstations hygienic? Is everyone aware of the importance of hand washing, and not just after using the toilet or before and after eating? Have you discussed how to wash hands properly? (Hands spread 80% of common infectious diseases.) Check out this OH&S blog for more information on ensuring proper hand hygiene.

How strong is your workplace and work team’s safety culture? (The answer is, probably only as strong as your own attitude towards safety.)