Safety Matters Q2 2018
How much damage can a workstation do?
Dangerous places, offices are. Sure, perhaps not as dangerous as working with heavy machinery or at height. But a computer workstation can cause more than its fair share of problems, if not set up correctly.
Let’s consider the desk surface. A bad set-up can lead to back and neck pain and also contact stress on the arms. The top of the desk should be at an appropriate height for the user (adjustable height desks are becoming more common). Computer monitors should be placed at head height and about 50cm from the eyes. These will help to avoid strain on both the eyes and neck.
The desk should provide enough space to accessibly house all equipment which the user frequently uses. Having to stretch repeatedly to reach stationery, or twist into unnatural positions is bad for posture.
It’s best to have desks with rounded edges. These help the circulation when arms rest on them – compared to angled edges – helping to prevent tingling and soreness in the fingers. If your desks have sharper edges, you could consider overlaying a softer material like foam.
And what about under the desk? In a busy office, it’s tempting to pile boxes or files under desks, but this isn’t advisable. Such obstructions can force the worker too far away from the desk top, or restrict leg movement – both of which can cause back and neck problems.
Who’d have thought there was so much to consider with the humble desk! But normally a little care and attention can render them harmless, and help you keep a healthy, productive workforce.
Good health and safety is great for your business
When people talk about health and safety, it’s often with just legal compliance in mind, and preventing people (and equipment) coming to harm – reactive policies to stop bad things happening. But what about the positives that a proactive health and safety policy brings to your business?
Being seen to take health and safety seriously by your staff brings you significant benefits. First, there is the cultural impact. You create a culture in which you clearly care about your employees, and an environment in which they can carry out their work effectively. This professional approach will play its part in recruiting and retaining high calibre workers.
Good health and safety will also help you operate more efficiently. According to the HSE, 31.2 million working days were lost last year due to work-related illness and injury. Reduce the lost days in your business and think of the management time saved and the avoided costs of covering for absent workers.
So investing a little in health and safety can deliver valuable returns through more effective employees and reduced absences. And that’s before you even consider savings in legal costs and compensation when things go badly wrong.
April is a month notorious for its changeable weather, and in particular showery rain. This can pose extra risks for employees who work outside, and to the entrance areas of buildings.
For outside workers, the correct clothing and equipment for rain are essential. Slips and falls become much more likely. So footwear with non-slip rubber and thick grooves in the soles are a must, particularly for people working at height. Other waterproof clothing is important but ensure that vision and hearing aren’t compromised. Hand tools should be suitable for outdoor use and have non-slip handles.
And for those lucky enough to be working indoors when the heavens open, there is still a heightened risk to manage. Main entrances to buildings can become extra slippery. So good quality entrance matting is advisable. If you do not have permanent matting up to the task, you could store reinforcement matting for especially wet days along with slip hazard signage.
Need help conducting a wet weather risk assessment? Call The Health and Safety Dept.
Health and Safety Myth Busters
It’s unfortunate but enduringly true that health and safety is a go-to excuse for managers and frontline staff when they introduce or enforce an unpopular policy. The HSE calls out such policies when they wrongly blame health and safety legislation. Here is our round-up of some of the latest myths they have dispelled.
Myth: Packed lunches banned from being eaten in the playground
With the weather turning warmer, nothing could be more pleasant than eating your lunch in the gentle sunshine. One school outlawed their children from eating their packed lunches alfresco, citing health and safety as the reason. However, government regulations do not touch upon this. Therefore, the decision was part of an internal management policy and should have been presented as such.
Myth: Providing empty tester perfume bottles
Most of us like to smell nice, and for many this means buying an expensive fragrance. Or if we’re lucky, being given one as a present. Some of us even like to collect empty tester perfume bottles, apparently. But one unfortunate enthusiast was prohibited by a store assistant from taking away such perfume bottles for, you’ve guessed it, health and safety reasons. Could it be that they were made of glass? Or were somehow unhygienic? Who knows? But in fact there is no legitimate health and safety reason why these empty glass bottles couldn’t be given away. It turns out that this was simply an internal waste and recycling policy.
Myth: Ban the safety pins
Do you have fond memories of your local swimming pool? Perhaps the changing rooms are not held so dear. Soggy floors, cramped cubicles, and those fiddly safety pins used to attach the locker key to your swimming costume. Thankfully, these safety pins are becoming a thing of the past as wristbands and clips are now preferred. One swimming pool blamed the demise of the safety pin on health and safety. Again, aside from general common sense, the HSE are not concerned with safety pins, so it was simply a commercial decision that there are better ways of attaching a key to your person when entering a swimming pool.
If you have a good reason for introducing a policy that is unpopular, then why not just use it to explain the policy? If there is no good reason, then perhaps you should change the policy. But don’t blame it on “health and safety”.
2017 sees huge rise in health and safety enforcement fines
When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published its enforcement figures for 2017, they showed huge rises in fines. They were up 74% on the previous year to about £61 million. Significant custodial sentences were handed out, too. This follows the introduction in 2016 of harsher sentencing guidelines and penalties.
There were some stand-out cases. These included a £2.2 million fine for Wilko when a 20-year-old female worker was crushed under a cage full of paint tins and paralysed. Kentucky Fried Chicken was fined just under £1 million following two employees being severely burned. And Aldi was fined £1 million after a new employee damaged his foot while operating an electric pallet truck without the proper training.
Lengthy jail sentences were handed out to the directors of more than one company following the deaths of employees falling from height.
That should be more than enough to make business owners sit up and take notice. And it is not just the punishments meted out by the HSE which business owners should be concerned about.
Depending on the nature of the accident, there could be further financial cost from repairing damage to machinery and equipment, lost revenue if operations are shut down for any length of time, and the time and money spent in preparing for the court proceedings.
Then there’s the human cost to consider. There will often be physical or mental damage to the immediate victim. But bad feeling could permeate throughout your workforce if it is perceived that you do not take workers’ welfare seriously. This could lead to recruitment and retention problems.
Appropriate risk assessments are at the heart of good health and safety policy. These include learning from near misses at your own organisation, and from the mistakes of others. To ensure you are handling health and safety correctly, get in touch with The Health and Safety Dept for an initial consultation.