Running a business is a complicated thing. Not only do you need to think about business growth, developing new products, attracting new customers and keeping your existing customers happy, balance the books and ensure you’re abiding by financial regulations and rules, but you also need to provide a safe and healthy environment for your employees to work in and for your visitors to visit.
That’s a lot of boxes to tick!
The problem is, not focusing enough attention on health, safety and wellbeing can have dire circumstances.
We appreciate that as a business owner, manager, or supervisor, you have a lot on your plate, so we’re going to help you out. This guide is going to break down the basics you need to cover to ensure you provide a healthy and safe working environment for your employees and to ensure the safety of visitors who head into your space. On top of that, we’re going to talk about some of the hidden subjects you might not even think about, such as reducing office stress, addressing the risk of mental health issues in the workplace, and how to cover all bases in the process.
It’s easy to think about the easy things, such as not leaving wire trailing along the floor, and putting a ‘wet floor’ sign in the reception area when it’s raining and people are leaving the floor a little slippery on their entrance and exit, but what about the huge range of other things you need to cover? If you forget even one, you could be opening yourself up to potential litigation in some cases, and certainly a huge dip in employee morale if you’re not careful.
Every small item leads to a bigger one if you’re not on the ball and understand the whole point of ensuring a healthy, safe, and pleasant office environment.
It might seem overwhelming right now, but by the end of this guide, everything should be a lot clearer!
Why Focus on Health, Safety, and Wellbeing at Work?
You have certain responsibilities as an employer, covered mainly by the Health and Safety at Work Act. This outlines the things you need to do as an employer to ensure that you provide a healthy and safe environment for anyone who enters your space, be it to work there or simply to visit. We’re going to go into more detail on this particular Act shortly, but that is certainly one reason why you need to focus on this particular subject matter.
Other than the legal side of things, surely it makes sense that if you place importance on health and safety, your employees will notice this and assume that you care about their wellbeing. Of course, you do! You don't want anything to happen to any of your employees, and not only because it would leave you short-staffed if anything was to occur! Your employees are part of your office family and that means you want the best for them.
Your employees will see this and understand that they are valued. As humans, when we feel valued, we automatically want to please the person who values us. Put simply, you see greater productivity coming your way, which links to faster business growth and increased profitability.
An unsafe working environment is not a pleasant place to be, and as a result, you will certainly see an increase in mistakes and the potential for stress creeping in.
At the end of the day, if you don’t focus on health and safety, you run the risk of your business being closed down. It’s that simple and that important.
What is an Employee Health And Wellbeing Package?
More and more businesses are recognising the benefits of implementing an employee health and wellbeing package into their organisation. This doesn’t need to be hugely comprehensive, and it really depends upon the type of business you are as to what you can afford to offer, but it shows offers your employees a range of health-related benefits and also works towards raising awareness of certain problems which may otherwise cause health issues.
A health and wellbeing package certainly covers the basis, e.g. offering sick pay, ensuring that staff can approach to have necessary changes made to their office furniture if necessary, and providing a generally safe and pleasant working environment, but it also includes other elements too. This could include smoking cessation advice, increased awareness of healthy eating routines, perhaps even offering healthy snacks during break times, offering cut-priced gym membership, and also looking into other mental health-related issues, such as confidential counselling, etc.
A package such as this has many benefits for morale as well as the health and wellbeing of your employees, and it’s certainly something you should look into as a business.
The Potential Litigation Risk
We’re not suggesting that you should focus on health and safety firmly to avoid litigation but it is something you need to bear in mind. Shortly, we’re going to discuss the Health and Safety at Work Act and other necessary legislation which covers the working environment. If you fail to comply with your responsibilities in line with this Act, you could face legal action.
In addition, if an employee or visitor has an accident on your premises and you are found to be liable for it, e.g. you didn’t place a ‘wet floor’ sign down and an employee or visitor slips and falls, you could be at risk of a hefty fine, or even worse.
These are issues which no business can afford to invite into their working history. Not only does it cost you a lot of cash, which most businesses can’t afford, but it also severely damages your business reputation. If something happens to one of your employees, it’s likely to severely impact on the morale within your office too, which will eventually impact on productivity and profits.
Put simply, there are many reasons why you need to focus on health, safety and also wellbeing, and the ramifications of not doing so are quite far-reaching.
To give you a general overview before we get into real specifics, check out this infographic which outlines a few interesting statistics.
Source - www.phoenixhsc.co.uk/blog/health-safety-in-numbers-infographic.html
The Health And Safety at Work Act 1974
The Health And Safety at Work Act 1974 is legislation which covers the workplace. This could be a shop, a factory, an office, or anywhere else, but any place which has employees and is classed as a working environment. Within this, there are responsibilities for both the employer and employees.
The Act itself is quite lengthy but it can be summarised down quite simply; that employers must do everything within their reasonable power to ensure a healthy and safe place for employees to work and for visitors to visit. In addition, employees must play their part and do everything they can do, again reasonably, to ensure the health and safety of themselves and their colleagues and visitors.
As you can see, that’s quite a broad statement and could cover a huge range of smaller subjects. At the end of the day, however, a lot of it comes down to common sense.
Check out this video which outlines a few of the biggest no-nos in terms of health and safety in the workplace.
As you can see, a lot of it comes down to thinking about things before you do them or considering the implications of something, e.g. moving your office storage units and ensuring that they’re not going to block a fire escape.
- Are there any trailing wires which someone could fall over?
- Are the bins being emptied on a very regular basis to reduce the chance of being a fire hazard?
- Are all fire exists left unblocked and unlocked?
- Are corridors clear and unblocked?
- Are wet floors clearly marked with a ‘wet floor’ sign?
- Are office desks sited in a way which ensures corners aren’t sticking out and causing a potential injury hazard for those walking past?
- Are all electrical pieces of equipment regularly PAT tested to ensure they’re working correctly and don’t pose a fire or electrocution hazard?
- Are all potentially hazardous substances controlled carefully, e.g. locked away and clearly marked (covered by the COSHH guidelines)
- If any employee needs protective clothing or equipment to do a particular job, do they have access to it?
- Do you have clear guidelines in place in terms of infection control? For instance, if someone is sick from work with a stomach upset, that they do not return to work until 48 hours clear of the issue
- Are employee are given regular breaks when working with VDUs (visual display units, such as computer monitors)?
- Do you have a nominated first aider?
- Do you have sufficient first aid equipment on the premises?
- How do you record illness and accidents in the workplace?
The list goes on, and as you can see, various elements overlap with other legislation too, such as COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health). Knowing the legislation that you need to work with is vital if you want to ensure that you avoid trouble in the future. Remember, spot checks can be undertaken at any time by the HSE (Health And Safety Executive) and if you are found to be failing in any aspect you will be served a notice to improve upon it immediately. In certain cases, this could mean the closure of your business completely.
As you can see, health and safety are extremely important!
What is a Lone Worker?
Many businesses have a lone worker policy, and this basically covers any member of staff who is working on the premises at any time, and they are alone. For instance, a member of staff might be working weekend overtime at their desks, and this would place them the ‘lone worker’ category at that particular time.
Another example could be a member of staff who regularly leaves the office environment to conduct visits to customers or clients. In this case, as they are not in their regular office environment and they are working alone, they are classed as a lone worker.
The reasons this is important is because of safety and security.
If a member of staff is in the office out of hours, assuming it has been cleared by management, they also need to have provisions in place to ensure their safety. Someone could enter the premises and threaten them at their office chairs, and if there were no safety provisions in place, the business could be found liable.
The workplace can sometimes be dangerous, and a lone worker policy reduces the risk. Check out this infographic for a bit more information.
Source - https://guardian24.co.uk/lone-worker-definition
Mechanisms in place to ensure safety, in this case, could include panic buttons which alert someone to an issue, perhaps linked up to the local police station, having security on-site out of hours, or perhaps having codes on doors to ensure that nobody can access the office unless they know the code. It could also be that nobody is allowed to work alone in the office out of hours and there must be a set number of people there, e.g. three people.
Employees who leave the premises to undertake visits could be issued with a panic alarm, a company mobile phone, or some other kind of device which ensures they can raise attention if there is a problem or they feel threatened.
A Relatively New Risk - Mental Health in The Workplace
This guide isn’t just about health and safety, it’s also about wellbeing.
Whilst mental health issues are certainly not a new deal, as they’ve been around as long as people have, they’ve become more and more prevalent in the modern office environment.
Now, we all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, but there are certain situations in a working environment which can detrimentally affect someone’s mental health. The biggest one by far is stress.
Employers need to recognise the damaging effects of stress and work with employees to raise awareness. Whilst you can’t kick out the possibility of stress completely, you can do a lot to reduce it if you place enough focus on it.
For a few common causes of stress, check out this infographic.
Source - www.koganpage.com/article/workplace-stress-infographic
As you can see, deadlines, unfair workloads and conflict can be some of the main reasons that stress can creep into a working environment but home issues can also find their way into the office too. If someone is struggling at home, they may become distracted and make uncharacteristic mistakes at their stylish office desk, or find themselves contributing less and less at the funky meeting tables during collaborative sessions.
As part of your wellbeing package, you could offer confidential counselling sessions, which would help employees to deal with issues and work through them in their own time and space. However, raising awareness of stress and highlighting stress management techniques during mandatory training sessions is also a good idea.
Most offices work within teams these days, which can certainly help to reduce problems in terms of unfair workload, but you also need to make sure that personality clashes and conflicts between team members aren’t causing issues too.
At the end of the day, there is little you can to do stamp out stress completely, because absolutely anything can cause stress, but there is plenty you can do to raise awareness of it and help those who might be struggling. Having an open-door policy will ensure that staff feel able to approach management when they’re worried or struggling with their workload, or when something else is bothering them.
When employees feel supported, they’re less likely to feel stressed, and if they do, the effects are likely to be less. The problem is, when stress is left unchecked over a long period of time, it can become extremely serious and can even impact on physical health too.
Of course, mental health issues don’t always involve stress, but there’s no denying that it plays a huge part. We’re seeing a huge increase in the number of people dealing with depression and anxiety in everyday life, and you have to remember that these people will all go to work too. As a result, the effects of the condition will impact not only on the quality of their work but their overall job satisfaction too. Mistakes might become more prevalent, collaboration reduces, and you can simply see by looking at them that they’re struggling.
Focusing on your employees as human beings is the single best way to connect and help someone who is going through a hard time, whatever the reason. By doing that, you’re showing your employees that you care, and together you can work through the issue, or give key support in various different ways.
The Office Basics - Sitting Correctly
We’ve talked so far about the major risks in the office environment and also about highlighting mental health conditions and how you can help to reduce them or assist an employee affected. Now we need to talk about the key basics which affect an employee on a daily basis.
For instance, do your employees know how to sit?
Sitting incorrectly can drastically increase the chance of developing chronic pain conditions, such as lower back pain, sciatica, and even repetitive strain injury (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome. In addition, not understanding the importance of breaks and getting up and moving around can also put them in danger of developing sitting disease, which links to a sedentary lifestyle.
Using active working methods, such as stand height tables or height adjustable desks is vital, but as an employer, you also need to make sure that these are safe to use. Having regular checks on your office furniture is vital, to ensure that the mechanics of such equipment is working properly and isn’t going to collapse or cause harm. Any breakages or any damage to equipment such as this also needs to be reported and investigated immediately, putting the equipment out of action until the problems solved.
It’s a good idea to incorporate ‘how to sit’ tutorials into regular training sessions with your employees. For instance, when a new member of staff joins the office they will have induction training, and this type of tutorial could be included in that. When staff have their annual training updates, this could be reintroduced to remind them and check that they’re actually following advice.
If any member of staff approaches you complaining of aches and pains or mentions a problem with their working set up, as an employer you are duty-bound to investigate and make any necessary adjustments. This might mean giving your employee advice on how to sit properly, as it might not necessarily be the actual chair or desk which is causing the issue. A risk assessment should be undertaken, to identify the problem and rectify it as soon as possible.
Put simply, there is no place in a contemporary office for incorrect sitting!
Top 10 Tips For Ensuring a Safe and Healthy Office Environment
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide so far, but now it’s time to break it down into practical elements and do a little summarising.
If you want to ensure that your entire workplace is safe and healthy for both employees and visitors, whilst also spreading your net of attention a little wider and thinking about overall wellbeing, these ten tips should help you hit your bases.
Tip 1 - Do Regular Risk Assessing Walk Arounds
Perhaps on a weekly basis, it would be extremely useful for a manager or supervisor to do a walk around, to identify any potential risks which would otherwise go unseen. As a result, problems can be solved before an incident occurs.
This could be checking fire exits aren’t blocked, regularly testing fire and smoke alarms, checking bins aren’t overflowing and have been emptied, checking for trailing wires, and basically identifying anything which could cause a problem, even ‘just in case’.
Tip 2 - Carry Out Comprehensive Risk Assessments on Any Reported Problems or Risks
If a problem is reported, either something has happened or a potential risk has been highlighted, a risk assessment needs to be done to ascertain what the level of risk is, what can be done to minimise or wipe out the risk, and then action needs to be taken in a timely manner.
If a problem has already occurred, a risk assessment still needs to be performed, to ensure there is no lingering risk remaining, and an investigation needs to be carried out on that particular incident. The reason for this is to ensure that there is no potential for risk still in existence and also to identify what happened, how it happened, and how you can learn lessons to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This investigation should also inform changes to policy and practices.
It goes without saying that all risk assessments and investigations need to be recorded officially and stored within your storage systems. If a spot check is undertaken by the HSE, they may ask to see this type of documentation.
Tip 3 - Ensure That Your Employees Know How to Sit Correctly
We’ve talked about why sitting correctly is important, but it’s surprising just how many people either don’t know how to sit correctly or simply don’t follow advice. Ensuring that staff have training on the proper way to sit at their desk is vital, and refresher courses need to be done, perhaps at their annual mandatory training sessions.
In addition, any type of furniture within your office desking system needs to be adjustable, to ensure that staff can tailor their sitting experience to their needs and therefore reduce the possibility of aches and pains.
Tip 4 - Ensure Staff Have Regular Manual Handling Training
It’s not only sitting correctly that needs to be taught but how to lift heavy or large items too. Manual handling training should form part of your mandatory training package. This helps to reduce the chances of staff lifting a heavy or large box or item incorrectly and causing themselves an injury.
Check out this video which highlights a little more about manual handling.
Tip 5 - Encourage Staff to Take Regular Breaks
Regular breaks are a must-have, and whilst you might think it defeats the object of productivity to take a break, it’s actually the opposite! Regular breaks help to focus the mind and reduce fatigue. As a result, productivity is boosted because less mistakes occur and everyone can concentrate far more effectively.
Encourage your staff to take regular breaks and ensure that you give them a comfortable and inspiring break space to go to during those times. You should also make it known that lunch should not be eaten at their desks, to try and get them to move away from the regular office and get some fresh air during their breaks. All of this has major health benefits, as well as helping to boost mood and reduce stress.
Tip 6 - Ensure That Electrical Equipment is Regularly PAT Tested
PAT testing, or Portable Appliance Testing, is a necessity for any electrical equipment within your office environment and beyond. This should be done regularly, however, the exact frequency depends upon the type of equipment in question. Generally speaking, annually is the minimum requirement, but you should check with the HSE in terms of frequency of specialist items.
This ensures that equipment is kept in a safe and working order and drastically minimises the chances of an employee or visitor becoming hurt by using it. In addition, training should be given on any equipment, as well as special safety equipment or clothing if necessary.
Tip 7 - Focus on Mental Health as Much as Physical Health
Despite a drive to lower the stigma attached to mental health problems, we still don’t mention such issues as much as any which affect physical health exclusively. If you want to ensure that your employees are healthy, safe and feel supported, you need to focus on mental health and physical health in equal amounts.
This means looking into stress management training, helping staff to feel supported and able to approach management with problems, and also looking into the possibility of offering confidential counselling services for employees, as part of your wellbeing package.
Tip 8 - Have an Open Door Policy For Staff
Working closely with our last tip, it’s important for management to have an open-door policy. This means that staff are able to approach their manager when they want to talk about something pertaining to work, or something which is affecting them and therefore affecting their work performance.
All too often, staff feel unable to approach their manager, or too worried about doing so. No judgement should come from an employee discussing a problem with a manager, especially if it is related to a conflict, stress, or another personal issue. Having this open-door policy will ensure that issues are dealt with when they are minor, and they don’t have time to build up into a crescendo.
Tip 9 - Look at Your Employee Wellness Package
If you don’t have a wellness package, it’s time to implement one! This means the types of benefits you offer your employees above and beyond the basics, such as holiday and sick pay. We’ve already mentioned confidential counselling services, but it could also include cut-priced gym membership, to help employees remain fit and healthy, nutritional advice, access to healthy snacks in the canteen, smoking cessation advice, or yoga and meditation classes during lunch breaks.
Focusing on the health and wellbeing of your employees, physically, emotionally and mentally will come back to the business ten-fold in terms of productivity.
Tip 10 - Ensure That Furniture is Tailored to Specific Needs of Employees
Our final tip is around the type of corporate office furniture you have within your space. Ergonomic chairs are a great go-to for ensuring that staff are sitting correctly and remain supported, but it doesn’t stop there. Make sure that desks are the right style and size for the role an employee is undertaking, and look towards added extras to make life easier. This could include a boardroom table with cable management, to reduce dragging cables along the floor and also boosting productivity, with devices able to be charged whilst being used.
If any adjustments need to be made to the working environment for a specific employee, e.g. perhaps you have an employee who uses a wheelchair, then a risk assessment should be done to identify the changes and these should then be performed in a timely manner. Ensuring that the working environment, not only the furniture, is comfortable and supportive for ALL employees is vital.
And there we have it! The complicated subject of health, safety and wellbeing isn’t difficult once you break it down. It really comes down to common sense, perhaps putting yourself in the position of your employees and seeing what they want and need, whilst also having your eyes open and checking for obvious and subtle risks within your working environment.
Remember, you’re not only responsible for your employees you’re also responsible for the visitors who enter your premises too. This means keeping the reception area clean and tidy, without any tripping hazards or wet floors. It means ensuring reception seating is comfortable and clean and being mindful of any issues which may cause problems during their short visit.
Placing importance upon health, safety and wellbeing is never time wasted. These are elements which are vital for the survival of a business, but also to benefit the biggest asset you have within your business - your employees.