Human Resource Management

HRM Guide Updates

How to Eliminate Accidents in the Office

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October 30 2015 - Workplace safety policies can often be a source of annoyance or the butt of jokes, but we still understand that they're a vital part of any thriving work environment. In fact, the role that simple rules (sometimes humorously simple) have played in transforming our workplaces is frequently overlooked. Incredibly, since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974, fatal injuries to employees have fallen by 87 percent and reported non-fatal injuries by 77 percent.

Despite everything we've achieved so far, there's still some way to go. According to the HSE, in the year 2013/14 there were as many as 629,000 injuries at work across the UK. Altogether, 4.7 million working days were lost, resulting in a substantial cost to both businesses and the economy as a whole. The personal costs are more difficult to measure, but approximately 4,600 workers are forced to withdraw permanently from the labour market each year as a result of a workplace injury.

With this in mind, we'd like to offer a few simple tips to help you prevent accidents in your office:

Identify Potential Hazards

The most important first step in tackling accidents at the office is to spend some time identifying the possible risks. Devising an effective set of health and safety policies is a cyclical process, but a pre-emptive assessment helps to prevent certain forms of accident from ever taking place. To identify potential problem areas:

  • Walk around your workplace to proactively search for hazards. Carefully observe the activities that are taking place and consider how these might injure your employees or harm their health.
  • If you have records of previous accidents, have an in-depth look at what might have caused these. Are there any commonalities in location, task or equipment used? Could a similar accident still take place today?
  • Examine the most common types of workplace hazard, including physical, ergonomic, chemical and biological factors. It is highly likely that some of these risks will be present in your office. The HSE also provides detailed guidance on many common threats.
  • Be sure to consider activities outside of your day-to-day schedule.
  • Consult your employees - do they deem any of your processes unsafe?
Formalise your General Policies

Once you've identified the hazards present in your workplace, it will be much easier to formalise the steps required to combat these risks. You must have a written health and safety policy statement if you have more than five employees, but you should also consider whether there are any unique risk areas that might benefit from written procedures. For example, you may want to formalise procedures for accessing potentially hazardous equipment, such as ladders or machinery. All of this information should be available in a single printed document and reviewed regularly by your staff.

Adequate training should also be provided to ensure that employees understand both the procedures and why they are necessary; but, remember that once policy documents are filed away, it's all too easy to forget or ignore formalised procedures. Make sure to post reminders wherever they will be most helpful, such as an easy-to-read breakdown of your equipment access procedure in the room where these items are stored.

The HSE has a number of resources, including templates, to help you put together a general health and safety policy.

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Inspect your Workplace Regularly

With your overall safety objectives outlined, it's vital to confirm that these are adhered to in reality. Regular inspections should be undertaken to discover where objectives are not being met. Often, safety policies are ignored because evolving workplace practices have made advice redundant or impractical, so regular inspections can also help reveal where updates are required.

In effect, your routine inspection should resemble your original risk assessment. It may even be helpful to print out a checklist that covers all areas of concern raised by your risk assessment. If you're still encountering the same issues, or new hazards have emerged, either your policies need updating or the implementation of these policies needs to be more thoroughly examined.

What do you do when issues are raised? As advised by the HSE, your policy document should delegate responsibility for each safety area to a specific member of staff. Any issues encountered during inspection can then be discussed directly with the individual responsible. This approach provides accountability and enables you to apply focused pressure to ensure safety policies are having an effect.

Deal with Issues Immediately

This will seem obvious, but as HSE case studies demonstrate, the number of avoidable incidents that take place due to a failure to act immediately is staggering. It is far too easy to ignore a loose corner of carpet or to tolerate dangerous workarounds that get the job done.

The cause is often a diffusion of responsibility: each of us assumes that someone else will fix the problem. Make sure your safety officers understand the repercussions of failing to take action. Further, try to develop a culture of individual responsibility in your business by rewarding those who take positive action and penalising those who fail to adhere to basic safety policies.

Another contributing factor is groupthink: hazardous work practices can quickly become normalised if not dealt with immediately. One option to combat this is to have each area of your business inspected by members of other departments. The aim is to bring a fresh perspective to normalised behaviours.

Problems that can't be fixed immediately should instead be entered into a formal reporting procedure. This process should be as simple as possible to encourage employees to report promptly. Once notified of a potential issue, the relevant safety officer can take the more complex steps necessary to fix the problem.

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Use the Right Equipment

Employers in the UK are required by law to provide suitable equipment for all tasks undertaken by employees. However, when purchasing new equipment, it's worth thinking about what you can do to make tasks easier and safer beyond the legal requirements.

For example, injuries frequently result from employees failing to use the right equipment while working at heights, even where well maintained equipment was available. Ensure that your equipment can be accessed quickly to minimise the temptation to work without it. Offering a range of solutions, such as a stepladder and step stool, also allows your employees to pick the most efficient tool for the task at hand.

Another common problem is clutter or general untidiness, which can result in tripping hazards as well as make it more difficult to evacuate in a fire. Make sure there is plenty of storage space available for both company property and personal items. If you're running low on space inside, innovative solutions such as plastic lockers can be placed outside to provide additional personal storage space.

Finally, ensure that you thoroughly examine the safety features of all new purchases. Durability is a particularly important factor as it's often damaged or faulty goods that cause accidents - the loose corner of carpet or the drawer that won't close properly. Storage areas are especially hazardous: make sure your shelving has adequate load capacity, and if you'll be making the occasional adjustment, go for a fully adjustable shelving system.


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