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.)



Most drivers have woken up to the extreme dangers of distracted driving, particularly from mobile devices. The other day on the radio I heard about an ‘All-American’ teenager, Reggie Shaw, who killed two rocket scientists and a truck driver by veering onto the wrong side of the road while texting. He was sent to prison and is now an active campaigner against ‘distracted driving’.

And what about ‘distracted working’? Most of us have a smartphone at hand to check in with friends, check our calendars, check the latest news, check the weather, check out my latest blog… (OK, well, maybe not that last one quite so regularly.) But still, all this checking and texting is often done while at work. While checking and texting when sitting at a desk may only impinge on productivity, it can be as hazardous as checking and texting while driving in other work situations–filling your vehicle with petrol, working with dangerous chemicals or operating heavy or motorised equipment or power tools, for instance, or monitoring people’s safety during sport or recreation, such as while on lifeguard duty.

A recent OHS blog reviews how to develop policies regarding such technological distractions. At the very least, as a leader-manager, you should ensure your team knows when it is ok to check and text and when it isn’t. Is it OK, for instance, to check or text while walking down the corridor? While walking through the production area or through the warehouse? During a meeting? While on the phone with a client or supplier? Does your workplace need a ‘phone zone’ inside which it’s safe to check and text and outside which it isn’t?

Food for thought, eh?

And the winners are…

Grocon Constructors, a Victorian company, was the winner of the 2012 7th Annual Safe Work Australia Awards for Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System, private sector. They have integrated their safety management system across their entire organisation and created a solid safety culture through all levels of the company. In the public sector, the award went to Energex, which manages energy distribution networks in South East Queensland. Their ability to successfully manage large and unpredictable events such as the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi, testified to the quality of its health and safety management systems.

The Australian Reinforcing Company (ARC), which manufactures and distributes reinforcing steel to the construction industry, won the award for the Best Solution to an Indentified Workplace Health and Safety Issue for their innovative solutions to three hazards in manufacturing steel. Their solutions addressed manual handling, falls and crushing and can be easily applied across the steel and construction industries.

Best Workplace Health And Safety Practices in a small business went to South Australia’s The Hub Fruit Bowl, a small family business. Consistency, rather than any earth-shatteringly clever innovations, underlies their award-winning approach: ensuring every employee is properly trained in the comprehensive health and safety system they developed, and encouraging them to ask questions about safety and report hazards.

Seaman Natalie Irvine of the Royal Australian Navy won the award for Best Individual Contribution to Workplace Health and Safety. She identified a number of errors in safety instructions and, demonstrating perseverance to overcome the barriers of rank, ensured they were fixed, improving the safety of Australia’s fleet.

Questions for discussion

Congratulations to the award winners. How award-worthy are the health and safety systems and practices at your workplace? What can you do to make your work team more safety conscious and strengthen its safety culture?

Continuously improving safety

Writing in the July 2012 Safe Work Australia newsletter, Minister Bill Shorten notes Australia’s progress in improving the health and safety of our employees. but, with 216 people dying every week from work-related injuries (2009 – 2010 figures), we still have a long way to go.

The Minister points to communication as a key driver in improving workplace health and safety and reminds us that employees need to feel they can raise safety issues without fear of discrimination or ridicule and in the knowledge that their concerns will be taken seriously and dealt with promptly.

The ‘inside knowledge’ of the people doing the job too often remains an untapped resource. Teams that abide by the continuous improvement imperative discuss ways to make even small improvements to everything they do and how they approach their work, and this includes health and safety matters as much as anything else.

Question for discussion

So let’s add to our continuous improvement questions (How can we do this better? Cheaper? Faster? More easily?) another question: How can we do this more safely?

When was the last time you and your team discussed how to improve the way you work and how to make your work safer?