Avoiding Common Health and Safety Hazards in the Workplace

Health and safety hazards exist in every environment, including the office. Mitigating health and safety risks is the responsibility of all employees; here are some common office hazards and their causes.

1. Falls

Slip and fall

Trips and falls are the most common type of office injury. Trip hazards exist in many different forms, including boxes, files, and trailing cables. It is therefore important that all items are stored properly and kept off the floor. Wires pose an electrical hazard as well as a trip hazard, and should be organised with care.

Slippery floors are another common cause of falls and significant injuries in the office. Safety signs indicating that an area of flooring is wet should be placed clearly in sight to deter staff from walking across slippery areas. See here for a range of different signs that highlight this hazard.

2. Backache

Backache is a common complaint amongst office workers and is typically the result of remaining in one position for an extended period of time. According to the NHS, workers should endeavour to leave their seats for one to two minutes every thirty minutes. Moving around allows the back muscles that have been kept tight during the day, preventing back stiffness and pain.

Bad posture when sitting is another common cause of back pain in the office; properly organised workstation can therefore mitigate the risk of backache. Chairs should be adjusted so as to ensure that employees’ feet rest flat on the floor at all times, screens must be at an appropriate height, and the positioning of the keyboard and mouse should be ergonomic to prevent muscle strain.

3. Unsecure items

Falling items are a common cause of injury in office environments; stacking shelves or not closing drawers can cause objects to fall, resulting serious injury to those beneath them. Ensuring items are stored safety and correctly can reduce the risk of injury; heavy objects should be stored close to the floor, not at height, and the load capacity of shelves in the office should not be exceeded.

4. Eyestrain

Staff who regularly look at computer screens are at risk of suffering from eyestrain. Eyestrain is distinct from eye damage, but is still painful. Eyes can become dry and irritated if regularly focussed on computer screens. Screen glare is a major cause of eyestrain in the office; glare reduction filters can be applied to monitors to reduce glare, and workers should avoid allowing direct light from open windows to flow directly on to their monitors.

5. Fire

Fire hose reel sign
photo credit: Jason Armstrong / Flickr

Although not common, fires are a potential risk in all workplaces, and can cause injury and death. Fires are often caused by damaged power cords, or overloaded cables. Cords should therefore be inspected regularly, items should be safety tested, and all damaged items should be removed immediately.

Heaters are an extreme fire risk. Even heaters certified for commercial use pose a significant fire risk. Make sure heaters are kept well out of the way of paper or other flammable items and cannot be easily knocked over; they should not be powered by extension cables, either.

Not all fires can be easily avoided; in the case of fire, it is important that all members of staff are able to leave their office quickly and safety. Fire doors should be properly signed to indicate their role and paths leading through fire doors to the outside should remain clutter-free at all times.