7 Guidelines to a Safer Office Environment

Office ergonomics

Offices tend to be safer environments in comparison with other workplace environments such as construction sites or mining operations. However, an alarming number of hazards exist in most office settings. Health hazards are not limited to worksites filled with heavy machinery and equipment, office buildings can be fraught with danger too.  Employers have an absolute duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others.

Here is how you can keep your office environment safe:

  1. Fire control
  • Know the specific evacuation plans and guidelines during fires.
  • Familiarise yourself with all emergency exits and how to access them.
  • Use flame-retardant materials.
  • Label and safely store all combustible items and fluids.
  • Fire equipment should be available and unobstructed, with some employees trained on their use.
  • Obey your buildings’ No smoking rules, and avoid throwing of matches, ashes, or cigarette butts into regular trash.
  1. Electrical Hazards
  • Never touch electrical switches, outlets, or plugs with wet hands.
  • Look out for frayed, torn, or otherwise damaged electrical cords and cables.
  • Clear floors and walkways of cords, coil excess cables or use cable ties to keep them out of the way.
  • Report burnt- out light bulbs or other appliances / defective equipment
  • Electrical hazards should be periodically inspected for integrity and replaced if damaged.
  • Overloading adaptors and plugs should be eliminated as that can create a fire risk. A power board is a safer option or alternatively, consider installation of more power points.
  • Electrical switchboards should be checked regularly to ensure that there is no combustible material stored around them.
  • Turn the power switch to “off” and unplug office machines before adjusting, calibrating, lubricating or cleaning.
  1. Ergonomics
  • Store heavy supplies on lower drawers or at ground level.
  • A workstation will have the correct ergonomics if the alignment of the computer screen, keyboard, person and chair are in a straight line, with no twisting of the head or body.
  • For additional lower back support, place a pillow or bundled clothing on the chair.
  • The height of the screen, keyboard and chair will also be important for good ergonomics.
  1. Temperature
  • The South African Labour Guide recommends a range of between 21 and 24 degrees in summer and 24 and 26 degrees Celsius in winter, and an airflow rate of 0.1 metres per second.
  • In cases where disagreement occurs, temperature should preferably be governed by a company policy.
  • Office workers spend long periods of time indoors in air conditioned buildings. If the air conditioning system is not maintained a number of problems, some potentially lethal, can occur.
  • Risks associated with air conditioning should thus be identified and reduced as much as possible.
  • How can you effectively identify and control risk related to indoor air quality?

The following factors should be considered:

  • Air quality test reports
  • Workplace inspections
  • Complaints from employees about the air quality
  • All complaints should be investigated
  • Limit machine fumes with ventilation
  1. First Aid
  • First Aid facilities must be provided where more than 5 employees are employed at a place
  • According to the department of Labour, the employer must provide a first aid box or boxes at or near the workplace, available and accessible for the treatmentof injured persons at that workplace.
  • First aid training should be provided to employees.
  1. Tripping and Falls
  • Avoid loose electric cables lying around by using trunking on cables
  • Report broken furniture, torn carpeting, loose floorboards or tiles and any other unstable objects.
  • Keep workspace clean and free of obstacles.
  • Watch for spills on the floor and provide signage for wet floors.
  • Use elevator when carrying heavy loads.
  • Workers who need to reach something at an elevated height should use a stepladder. Workers should never climb higher than the step indicated as the highest safe standing level.
  1. Eye strain
  • Provide adequate and effective lighting.
  • Reduce glare from indirect lighting and dull paint finishes
  • Correctly position computer monitors
  • Increase computer font size where necessary
  • Take regular breaks
  • Try to dim your computer screen light as much as you can and be sure to get some fresh air and natural sunlight every day.

Always report unsafe working conditions to your supervisor. Workplaces are required to have reporting systems to make it easier for employees to report potential hazards before they cause injury.

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