Hidden dangers: is seeing believing when it comes to office health and safety?

Key to the successful delivery of any health and safety programme is the willingness of staff to take the initiative when identifying workplace hazards. However, while inappropriately placed boxes and exposed wiring present obvious safety risks, there are also many invisible dangers that staff may not be aware of but can prove equally harmful. In order to safeguard the workforce, it is essential that health and safety representatives do not let hidden hazards slip from their mind and ensure that workers are aware of and know how to mitigate these risks as part of a comprehensive workplace safety programme.

Carbon monoxide

With the potential to cause long-term health problems such as brain damage and paralysis, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning presents one of the most serious threats to employee safety. Often referred to as the ‘silent killer’, the colourless and odourless nature of CO means that the presence of this gas often does not become evident until staff start to display symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The fact that symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those of someone with a hangover or the flu means that it can be easy to mistake a potentially life-threatening gas leak for something less serious. As well as ensuring that employees are able to recognise the warning signs in colleagues at an early stage, businesses can significantly reduce the chance of staff being exposed to carbon monoxide by engaging a Gas Safe Registered engineer for the correct installation and maintenance of gas appliances. Carbon Monoxide monitors should be placed around the premises as a course of habit.

Bacteria

Recent analysis from Vitality estimates that workplace sickness costs the UK economy £73bn per year, so it is essential that employees are encouraged to recognise the important role they play in reducing the spread of bacteria. One way companies can achieve this is by implementing a strict policy stipulating that workers stay at home when ill. However, in order to prevent outbreaks of sickness occurring in the first place, a thorough approach to hygiene and sanitation should be adopted. The average person carries from two to ten million bacteria between their fingertip and elbow, which if left without treatment can quickly cause common illnesses such as colds, flu and stomach complaints.

Appropriate office signage can play a key role in the prevention of illness, reminding staff to wash their hands in critical areas such as bathrooms and food preparation points. With many busy employees often tempted to perform a ‘splash and dash’ when visiting the bathroom, businesses should also consider educating staff about correct hand-washing techniques in order to reduce breakouts of illness and boost employee attendance levels.

Manual handling

There are two main types of hazard posed by the office environment; mobile and static risks. While static risks, such as incorrectly placed items, are often a first focus point for those implementing health and safety plans, mobile risks such as incorrect carrying, lifting and handling can be more difficult to monitor. Ensuring that employees are aware of correct manual handling techniques is essential to avoid potential skeletal and muscular damage. As well as making sure that a full training session in this area forms part of every worker’s company induction programme, health and safety representatives should invest time in refreshing employees’ knowledge at regular intervals to minimise the likelihood of an incident occurring.

In order to minimise workplace accidents, businesses should aim to make hidden health and safety risks an engaging and relevant topic. As well as regularly emphasising the implications of not following correct procedures, updating the entire workforce on developments in policy is important for creating a culture of shared responsibility. However, while effective, company-wide communication is a powerful tool in the battle against invisible workplace hazards, businesses should ultimately aim to eliminate health and safety hazards altogether. By ensuring that out of sight is not out of mind when it comes to the office’s hidden dangers, companies can meet their responsibility for employee wellbeing whilst reducing any costly disruption to operations.

Office Depot Nigel Crunden

Nigel Crunden is a business specialist at business solutions provider Office Depot.