OHS Tips for the Office

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Overtime and going home late is now a work health and safety issue

Keeping Safe in the Office

Developments in technology and the rollout of faster, more stable internet across the country have created a situation where more Australians than ever are able to work remotely. Many roles can now be effectively  perfromed while working in a home office or on the go.

Proving a workplace free from health and safety hazards is not only a requirement but is also a part of ethical employment. Effective management of safety issues also has huge impact on employees and has been proven to lead to reduced cost, increased productivity, higher moral, better employee relations and lower workers compensation claims. So as an OHS/WHS professional, how do you keep a geographically dispersed workforce, working a range of conditions, safe from harm?

Common Office and Telework Hazards

There are a variety of hazards that employees, employers and safety officers will come across during their time in the workplace. Most of these hazards are common to any office type environment, whether it is a home office or a professional workspace. It is the responsibility of everyone to report these hazards in order to keep the workplace safe for all. I have compiled a list of some hazards you might find in your workplace below.

Mechanical Hazards:

• Unsteady filing cabinets
• Tripping hazards
• Sharp edges

Physical Hazards:

• Glare from computer screens and windows
• Reflections from computer screens and windows
• Overheating of technological equipment including photocopies, computers, printers ect.
• Inappropriate chairs
• Jobs and tasks that encourage prolonged work (and little movement)
• Poor lighting
• Poor ventilation
• Temperature variations (particularly with air conditioning)
• Trip hazards like loose cables

Chemical Hazards:

• Vapors in the air
• Paint (particularly when renovations are being done in the office, as many barriers to stop paint fumes entering the work stations of employees as possible should be taken)
• Solvents and particles like ink from printers and photocopies should be monitored

Psychological Hazards:

• These can come down to how a person is treated in the workplace (employer and employee relationships)
• Bullying in the workplace
• Excessive work hours
• Lack of satisfaction leading to a lack of employee engagement
• Repetitive work
• Limited task variety
• Staff unaware of emergency procedures

Electrical Hazards:

• Damaged electricity cords
• Overloaded power points
• Christmas decorations in the workplace can be a fire hazard

How to Overcome Office OHS Hazards

While both employers and employees face many OHS problems in the workplace, there are certain things you can do as an employer or safety representative, to safeguard against this.

• Ensure you have a safety officer or safety representative check all electrical equipment for hazards and warranty
• Have a safety rep. check all the power cords for fraying or exposure of wires and general damage
• Minimize power boards and double adapters for the control of electrical risk
• Ensure all flooring, walkways and stairs are free from obstruction
• Ensure all emergency exits are not blocked
• Before moving in (if possible) ensure your office floor plan is compliant with OHS building requirements
• Have a safety officer check all flooring for proper maintenance
• Give staff access to appropriate safety equipment (if needed), like a small ladder for reaching things at a height (as opposed to using a desk or office chair)
• Provide adequate lighting in all areas
• Stabilize heavy items like bookshelves or filing cabinets
• Have a safety representative or officer maintain all office equipment for safety
• If air-conditioning is not available, ensure employees have adequate access to a ran or heater depending on the season
• Ensure the human resources manager or safety representative have been appropriately trained to complete the task they are employed to do

It is also important to ensure all employees have been trained for emergencies. Events such as a fire, bomb threat or health issue should be set out in company policy and need to include the emergency evacuation procedures. Coordination during these events should be led by the manager or occupational health and safety representative or OHS officer of the company. It is also a good idea to regularly hold practice evacuations so everyone is briefed on what to do in a fire situation.  This is good practice particularly if there are new employees coming into the company on a regular basis.

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