What to think about when returning to the office
Let me help you get started on that necessary and, of course, legal requirement for most businesses that you’ve probably been putting off – Health & Safety.
As a professional organiser, helping businesses get back into the office is all part of the job. Unfortunately, opening up the office again is a bit more involved than switching on the lights and re-starting the weekly fruit delivery.
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 applies to ALL businesses. You may get visited by an inspector at any time, without warning.
1. Staff Structure
There may have been changes in your business structure since the first lockdown. This is also relevant if, like me, you started your business during lockdown. The Health & Safety Act requires that any business employing 5 or more people has a Health & Safety Policy document. You will also need a designated person whose responsibility it is to oversee and implement this policy, a Health & Safety Officer (HSO).
The questions for your business might be:-
- Have you had to take on more staff? Or maybe you have lost some.
- Does your business now require a Health & Safety policy?
- If you already have one, do you remember where is it?
- Do you remember what it says?
- Who is your Health & Safety Officer (HSO)?
- Are they still employed by you? (Or been head-hunted by The Inspectors?)
- Are you still in the same premises?
If you have changed your business address then it is likely that you will need to review your Health & Safety policy and procedures. This would mean conducting inspections to make sure your work place is compliant with the Health & Safety at Work Act. Your HSO will need to carry out assessments of the risks and hazards.
2. Risk Assessment – Equipment
As with staff levels there may have been other changes to your business environment over the last year or so. Your premises and equipment may need reviewing, particularly around
- Electrical equipment – including your kitchen/lunchroom appliances (kettle, fridge, toaster, fancy juicer)
- Hazardous substances – cleaning fluid, toner, whatever the green stuff in the fridge is and not keeping questionable samples with your food.
- Fire extinguishers and blankets
- Air con/heating – sadly, Legionnaires Disease is not an infestation of buff young Frenchmen in cute uniforms! Equipment with still/stagnant water in it that is kept at high temperatures (25-40C) should be checked and the water treated. This may even affect the general public or those living nearby so should be a priority.
- Machinery repair and maintenance – You may have noticed little stickers on electrical plugs and other machinery around your work place. The types and frequent of test should be know by your HSO and written in your policy. As many business premises have had few people around over the last 12 – 16 months, it would be wise to get every piece of equipment checked. This will apply to anything considered machinery including photocopiers, shredders, scanners, computers, guillotines, fancy electric staplers and printers.
3. Risk Assessment – Space
As cramped and cluttered spaces can be detrimental to mental health, as well as possibly causing back and neck problems, each worker should have 11m3 for their workspace. Workers also need to be able to move around freely and keeping thoroughfares clear of clutter is essential, especially without the possibility of tripping or slipping. A risk assessment needs to look at things like
- cables around workstations
- carpet corner curls or kinks
- banana skins
- anything that impedes movement
This applies equally to external walkways, so check cracks in the pavement, potholes and slippery surfaces. In the last year a great deal may have happened to degrade what was in good condition to a much lower standard.
4. Risk Assessment – Manual Handling
This relates to lifting and carrying heavy equipment and supplies. If your first reaction is to call the new young, fit intern to pick up heavy stuff around your office, then you need to rethink your policy. Make sure you have the proper equipment for re-stocking supplies, moving equipment, changing water bottles and put things in the most appropriate places. Heavy boxes of paper should not be stored on the top shelf. This is not only so they don’t fall on heads, but so that shorter colleagues can reach them.
5. Personal Protective Equipment
Before January 2020, PPE was not a term many of us had been aware of. But we have certainly heard a lot about PPE since the start of the pandemic. Of course, when the Health & Safety At Work Act came into law COVID-19 was not remotely on the horizon. But it sure is now. You will need to include how PPE or disease spread precautions in your Health & Safety Policy. The government website has plenty of information to help with this.
6. Display Screen Equipment
One size does not fit all so you need to be aware of your workers’
- screen conditions (please clean it from time to time)
- Height of chairs and desks
- any other items that can cause back, neck or repetitive strain injury.
Employers only need to test equipment that they supply, so if workers are using your own equipment then that is their own responsibility.
7. Electrical Supply
8. Working From Home
For many people now, their home is their office, at least for part of the week. Any Risk Assessment of your home will need to consider ALL OF THE ABOVE. You should include assessments of how your business affects others in your household.
CHECK YOUR INSURANCE POLICY.
Any changes in your business structure, risk assessments, premises or services warrants that you check your insurance policies and make certain that your insured liabilities are all correct and up to date and include your home workers. (I cannot think of anything funny about insurance.)
11. Treats & Essentials
Lastly, though not strictly anything to do with Health & Safety, when you shut your doors from the first lockdown, the next thing you probably did was cancel the direct debits for all deliveries. Now is the time to re-start previous relationships or look for new suppliers for things like office essentials, hand soap, dishwasher tablets, milk, fruit, newspaper/ magazine, coffee subscriptions. Think about the things that might be needed to entice your staff back into the office. Make the office environment welcoming again by taking a trip to a garden centre to pick up some plants or going all out and getting the decorators in.
I hope this list gives you a good idea of what work you may have to do to become compliant, but I hope that you are able to tick most of these things off quickly and easily. If not, your next stop will be The governments Health & Safety at Work Act pages and pamphlets.
Also and excellent resource is A Straightforward Guide to Health and Safety Law: The essential handbook for businesses large and small, by Samantha Walker, available at all good Libraries.
If you need an extra pair of hands to help you check-off the list of things to do to get your business compliant, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org. To view other services see: https://sortingcat.org/Services