Think of the application of health and safety in the workplace and you usually think of warehouses, factories or other high-risk environments. However, the regulatory regime is just as stringent for office environments.
The fundamentals of Health and Safety legislation do not make any differentiation between a steel foundry and the legal department of a corporate enterprise. The basic rule – that employers are legally obliged to provide as safe a working environment as possible for all workers and visitors – applies equally no matter what the setting.
Why is H&S a COLP duty?
Quite simply, the COLP must “take all reasonable steps to…ensure compliance with any statutory obligations” of the firm (Rule 8.5 (c) of the Authorisation Rules). Outcome 7.5 of the Code of Conduct also requires firms to “comply with legislation applicable to your business”, and of course the COLP is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Code of Conduct.
As with all COLP and COFA duties, it does not mean that the nominated Compliance Officer has to physically conduct the work – they must be in a position to oversee the process and satisfy themselves that compliance is achieved.
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974
The basis of all modern H&S legislation is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This lays out clear guidelines for employers and managers as to their responsibilities to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees. It is, however, quantified with the phrase ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’. Don’t be fooled, though, into thinking that this is some kind of ‘get out of jail free’ card that absolves managers or employers of their responsibilities. In fact it reinforces them, putting the onus on the employer to ensure that the environment is as safe as possible, given the working conditions and any logistical restrictions.
In an office, that compliance can include everything from carrying out an ergonomic assessment of the shape of a chair, through to ensuring that staff are given the relevant information on manual handling so that they lift boxes of files correctly. It can also include:
• Risk assessments of work stations
• Arranging eye tests for anyone who spends prolonged periods working with computers
• The supply of ergonomic equipment such as lumbar and gel wrist supports to prevent RSI
• Regular fire drills and practices
• General health and safety compliance i.e. the safe and correct installation of cabling to avoid trips and falls
• Manual handling
• Minimising work-related stress
Of these, it’s manual handling that can be one of the biggest risks in a workplace environment, even an office. The incorrect lifting of heavy boxes of files can cause serious and long-term injury to the spine, so ensuring that employees know how to lift correctly or the supply of lifting equipment in, for example, an archive room, is the responsibility of the manager or employer.
Offices also contain a great deal of electrical devices such as computers, printers and other equipment. An often overlooked aspect of the H&S legislation in the office is the maintenance of electrical equipment, and under the legislation it is a manager or employer’s responsibility to see that all electrical equipment is safe to use and correctly maintained.
Finally, don’t forget your remote workers. Even if they are not in the office, your employees are still your responsibility if they are working from home or from a remote location. You will need to ensure that any working environment, no matter where, is compliant with the legislation and that it is as safe as reasonably practicable for your employees to carry out their job with the minimum risk to their personal safety or well-being.