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Health and safety beyond box-ticking

Health and safety beyond box-ticking

At Aztec, we appreciate the many benefits of a beautifully designed office – space that stands out for all the right reasons, creating a sense of pride and ownership, facilitating productivity and offering clients a welcoming place to visit and spend time.

However, we also understand the need for space to be commercially sound – which means supporting the wellbeing of those using it. Office space, however aesthetically pleasing, needs to be safe, considering all the elements necessary to allow employees to preserve their health at work – perhaps even improve it.

The 2016 HSE report revealed some alarming statistics – during the year 2015/16 1.3 million people suffered a work-related illness, half a million experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression, and 72,702 non-fatal injuries were reported by employers.

The total cost of workplace injury was £4.8bn to UK businesses, with £30.4m in lost working days alone – all at a time when UK productivity is in the spotlight and companies need to be operating at their very best.

But how many of these incidents could have been avoided? While not all the injuries will relate to an office setting, by considering health and safety in the design and layout of every office environment, businesses can reduce the staggering amount lost needlessly each year to workplace injury.

As illustrated by the HSE report, looking after emotional wellbeing should be given the same focus as preventing physical injury.

There are a number of areas businesses should think about as a first port of call in ensuring that their office space is as safe as possible and allows their workforce to maintain their health at work as well as at home:

Are your office workstations comfortable?

There should be enough room to allow people to get to and from workstations and move within the space with ease – this should always be considered carefully when designing an office layout, taking into account additional floor space occupied by furniture, fittings and other equipment.

Each individual workstation should also be large enough to allow the person using it to arrange the screen, keyboard and documents in a flexible way, with enough room to work comfortable and change position. Office chairs should be stable, adjustable in height and have a seatback that can be adjusted for both height and tilt.

If you’re unsure whether workstations are configured in a way that avoids unnecessary strains, or whether posture issues are being created by inappropriate seating, a work station assessment is a sensible initial action to find out whether changes are needed.

Has sound and acoustics been considered?

Noise levels can be an enormous distraction in the office – any particularly noisy office equipment should be housed in a separate part of the building, away from workstations.

Co-working environments unfortunately do little to control excessive noise, which is proven to impact wellbeing as well as physical health. The World Health Organisation estimates that the annual cost to Europe from excessive noise levels is £30bn.

Sound should always be factored into any office design – the majority of the time issues can be prevented by configuring the space in a sensible way. However, in cases where altering the layout of the office to solve a noise issue isn’t possible, acoustical tuning is an alternative option. The goal isn’t silence, which can be equally harmful, but a comfortable level of ambient noise.

Think about air quality

Air quality should always be a key consideration in any office. Poor air quality develops when not enough fresh air is introduced to reduce concentrations of contaminates.  Your HVAC system must not only control those contaminates, but must also provide a comfortable environment that avoids high or low extremes in temperature, bad smells or stale air. Any issues with HVAC systems should be tackled as soon as possible.

Put a procedure in place so that, should issues arise, the problem can be escalated and solved in a speedy manner.

Does lighting strike the right balance?

It’s common knowledge that poor lighting causes accidents – but too much glare is almost as damaging, affecting mood and circadian rhythms and causing headaches and eye strains.

While it’s important to make sure that all areas of the office are well-lit, avoiding trips or falls, businesses should think beyond the threat of physical harm and consider the wellness factor and how lighting can influence that.

If you’d like more advice on office lighting why not read our blog on the subject.

Review fire safety regularly

Fire safety is crucial in any space – office or other – and not something that anyone takes lightly. Fire safety will always be a core concern for any design team, who will ensure that there are adequate escape routes in the appropriate junctures within an office. However, over time additional furniture and fittings may be introduced, blocking escape routes or making circumnavigating a fire difficult.

Business owners, or the individual in charge of health and safety, should carry out a walk-around regularly, making sure that the space is as compliant as it was the day it was handed over.

While there are many considerations, health and safety goes beyond a tick-box exercise and must always be built into the design of an office space, considered from the outset.

Rather than looking at health and safety in the office as a compliance headache, think of it as an opportunity – a way to reduce absence and boost productivity.

Aztec has been successfully delivering office fit-out and refurbishment projects for more than 30 years. 90 per cent of our business comes from referrals and recommendations – testament to the excellent standard of work we produce and the strength of the relationships we build with clients. This ethos is reflected in our aftercare – Aztec clients can rest assured that whatever the issue, our team of experts will be available to solve the problem, whether health and safety advice or troublesome plumbing.

We’re here to help.

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