Health and Safety in the Office

This blog is a guest post from Quadriga Health and Safety – experts in keeping employees and experts in keeping employees and business healthy and safe at work.

Office health and safety is often overlooked in business. Many office jobs, like sitting at a desk and typing at computer, don’t seem to suggest much risk. However, working in an office environment can present many hazards each day. If your business is based in an office, or includes an office, as a manager you have a legal responsibility to keep that environment safe for people to work in and ensure that effective fire precautions are maintained.

This blog explains what you should consider to provide good health and safety in an office.

Carrying Out an Office Risk Assessment and Making Changes

When you employ five or more people, you have a legal obligation to have a written Health and Safety policy. Part of the process of putting together a policy is to carry out a risk assessment. In an office, this should involve identifying the hazards and risks across the whole office area and evaluating them, before making changes and putting processes in place to mitigate them. A fire safety risk assessment is also required, laying out how fire risk is minimized and what precautions such as fire alarms, fire extinguishers, emergency lighting, fire doors and staff training are required.

Hazards and changes could include removing computer wires that are trailing across the floor, or placing a carpet along the floor of a slippery corridor. You should record all the information – hazards, changes you make and the controls required – and keep it on file for future reference.

Creating a Health and Safety Induction for Your Office Staff

Many potential office hazards, which can lead to accidents and injuries, can be caused by your staff. This could include an employee:

• Tripping over a box of files that have been left on the floor
• Obstructing electrical equipment or placing combustibles near heaters
• Falling off a chair after using it to reach items on a high shelf
• Causing a filing cabinet to topple over after leaving a heavy cabinet drawer wide open
• Injuring their back after bending down to carry a heavy box of printer paper
• Obstructing a fire exit leading to difficulty or dangers in evacuating a building
• Suffering a neck injury from sitting uncomfortably at a desk when working on a computer
• Wedging fire doors open.

To prevent such accidents from happening, you should put processes in place and make sure your staff follow these rules whenever working in the office. One way to do this is to have each member of your staff complete a health and safety induction, including new employees when they join your company. This could involve them watching official videos about potential hazards in the office and how to avoid them, as well as training sessions about the safety procedures they should follow. You could also provide leaflets and display posters to remind staff about office safety. Also consider a first day induction on fire safety, the importance of fire precautions such as keeping fire doors closed, how to raise the alarm, how to evacuate the building and the escape routes and assembly points.

Safety Procedures for Your Staff to Follow in the Office

These could range from instructing employees to do simple things, like:

• Shutting filing cabinet drawers after using them
• Keeping corridor floors and doorways free from clutter
• Using a step ladder, rather than a chair, to reach something on a high shelf
• Taking part in regular fire drills.

You could also provide them with training to follow more detailed procedures, such as:

• Knowing how to make sure an office chair and computer screen are set at the correct height to avoid neck and back injuries when typing at a desk
• A step-by-step process of the correct technique to bend, lift and carry heavy items
• The process they should follow when reporting an accident
• Knowing what to do in the event of a fire, including training on how to raise the alarm, use a fire extinguisher and the process of exiting the building safely.

To ensure that staff carry out such processes correctly, you should also provide the right equipment for them. This includes items like stepladders and adjustable office chairs, as well as an accident book to report any accidents that take place.

Quadriga Can Help You with Office Health and Safety

You should always ensure you provide effective health and safety, whatever company you run, whether it’s an office, shop or factory. With our expert health and safety service, we can provide you with what you need to keep you, your team and your business safe. We hold regular training courses and seminars and can also provide you with tailored consultancy. To find out more, please call Quadriga on 0118 929 9920 or click here to email us.

Are You Sitting (too) Comfortably?

This guest blog was written by Karen Ambrose of the Karen Ambrose McTimoney Chiropractic practice.

 

According to some research that I read about towards the end of last year, people who work in offices are thought to be ‘dangerously sedentary’, sitting more than people over the age of 75.

Some experts say that sitting down is as bad for us as smoking, while others tell us that standing up too much is also bad. So how much sitting is too much, and what are the alternatives? What should we do to stay healthy and mobile?

What’s so bad about sitting?

You might think that sitting for too long is bad for your muscles and posture, and this is true. Sitting puts a strain on your back, hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thighs), neck and shoulders. It also causes the gluteal muscles in your bottom to wither, especially if you slouch in your chair.

However, scientists are also worried about what happens inside your body when you sit for too long. After 90 minutes of sitting, your metabolism dramatically winds down and cells aren’t operating at a high enough level to keep your system ‘oiled’. It has been likened to turning off your heating in the summer. When you turn it back on again as the evenings get cooler in the autumn, you worry about the system creaking, or corrosion in unused pipes causing leaks. It’s the same when you sit for a long time – your ‘system’ is essentially turned off. This affects every structure in your body, from brain function to blood flow. After just an hour of sitting, your arteries’ ability to expand is impaired by 50%. This is one of the earliest markers for heart disease and strokes, along with high blood pressure. If you spend a long time sitting, your insulin levels can also be high, which means that you are at higher risk of diabetes.

You don’t even have to be overweight to be at risk, although it makes it worse. A study of older women found that sitting for more than 10 hours a day meant their bodies were biologically eight years older!

You might not have heard of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, but it plays a crucial role in breaking down fats and sugars in your body and sending them to your muscles to be burned off. Your body can’t produce it while you’re sitting down because you’re not using your muscles. Just standing up is enough to activate it.

German researchers have also shown that the risks of some cancers – bowel, womb lining and lung – increases with every two hours that you spend in a chair.

How much is too much?

The research being carried out into the effects of sitting for too long are in their early stages, but what has already been seen is that the problems start to show themselves if you sit for more than 60-70% of your working hours. So if you sit for more than seven hours a day in total, you will be harming yourself. There is a scaling down effect if you sit for less time.

A report by Public Health England concluded that office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day. An Edinburgh University study revealed that middle-aged office workers sat for 7.8 hours a day, which compared to 7.4 hours for people over the age of 75, which researchers say is far too much. They also recommend that you shouldn’t sit for more than an hour at a time. Standing up is enough to engage your muscles just enough to activate your whole system – your brain, your metabolism, your nervous system. Because you’re on your feet, you are more likely to be doing some light movement too. So before you read on – get up and move around or make yourself a cup of coffee before you come back to read the rest of this!

What about standing up?

So does this mean that you should spend more time standing up, instead of sitting at your desk? Not necessarily. Studies into sedentary behaviour shows that people assume they’re being told to stand up all the time rather than sit down. But that’s bad for you too as it brings with it a danger of varicose veins and feet and joint pain.

What’s important is getting a balance between sitting, standing and moving through your day. ‘Binge sitting’ for hours on end is very bad for you and must be broken up. You could invest in a desk that moves up and down, depending on whether you want to work sitting down or standing up. Or you could take regular breaks and go for a short walk. Other leading researchers recommend that in every hour, you should spend no more than 40 minutes sitting down, 15 minutes standing up and 5 minutes moving around. It’s not always possible to do this, but what’s important is to have a go and be aware of how much time you spend sitting. Going for a brisk walk at lunch time will certainly help. You can also change the way that you work, so instead of emailing a colleague, get up, walk across the office and speak to them.

If you find yourself sitting in front of the TV for hours at the end of the day, try getting up during the ad breaks and putting the remote control out of reach so that you have to move. Balancing (carefully) on first one leg and then the other while you’re doing the washing up is a way of stretching and moving more. See how creative you can be with this!

I’m lucky in my job in that I don’t spend much time sitting down. I’m on the move all the time that I am treating each patient. I notice a big difference in my energy levels and muscle stiffness when I have an admin day at my computer, so I make sure that I keep moving – even if it’s just to get up, stretch and make a cup of tea. If you have any stiffness that won’t go away, don’t let it get worse – come and see me and we’ll talk about what treatment will help.

The Karen Ambrose practice is based in Harwell, Oxford. For further information, email Karen@karenambrose.co.uk or telephone 07734 872318.

 

One in Five Employees ‘Regularly’ Uses Drugs

One in five UK employees admits to regularly taking drugs, and a third suspect that a colleague may have a drug problem, according to new research that suggests the increase in the use of illegal substances may be starting to make itself felt in the workplace.

The study of 500 employers, from Crossland Employment Solicitors, found that just two in five firms (40%) have a drugs policy, and only 23 per cent have tested their staff for drug use.

However employers must have ‘good reason’ to justify testing their employees for drug use. Because of the intrusive nature of drug testing, you must have a good reason to justify a policy of testing staff, and should always consider whether there is a less intrusive means of monitoring employees.

As an employer you also need to exercise caution when dealing with employees who they suspect of using drugs. It is vital that you have a ‘sensible’ drug misuse policy in place. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure a safe place of work for their staff. With respect to substance misuse, this should include having clear rules about coming to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and about drinking alcohol or taking drugs while at work.

The Crossland figures are higher than official estimates of drug use. A Home Office survey in 2015 found that 19.4% of 15 to 24-year-olds had taken an illegal substance over the previous 12 months, and 7.6% had used a Class A drug. The Global Drugs Survey 2015 found that 31% of the UK population as a whole had used drugs at least once.

According to Crossland’s survey, 45% of employees who use drugs feel it has affected their work performance. A similar proportion (46%) say they are aware of potential disciplinary action for substance abuse, but another 35% are unsure of the exact grounds and consequences of their actions.

In view of your Health and Safety obligations, as an employer you are able to take action to deal with employees who use drugs outside of work in certain circumstances. If you need any advice on this issue, or dealing with your own employees, please contact us on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.