There are many factors that can influence job satisfaction and productivity levels in the office. Although elements like economic retribution, good working relationships with colleagues, and autonomy are all very important, health and safety considerations cannot be taken out of the equation. The importance of health and safety in the workplace should not be underestimated, as the well-being of both employers and staff depends on it.
Since potential hazards are everywhere, it is important to be familiar with and understand what regulations are in place in order to protect your health and well-being at work, as well as which are your rights as an employee in terms of health and safety. This article provides an overview of the most important aspects of the current health and safety legislation, with the objective of helping you understand better your rights in the office.
Understanding the current health and safety regulations and how they affect you
In the United Kingdom, office workers are protected by the regulations stipulated in the Health and Safety Act of 1974. The Act consists of several codes of practice, which contain the general principles that every employer must follow in order to provide a better and safer working environment for his / her employees.
The Act requires employers to do their best to ensure that the systems used at work, the layout of the working space, and the facilities where work takes place are free of hazards and risks as much as it is reasonably possible. Under the Health and Safety Act, one of the most basic rights that employees have is the right to work in an environment where measures are taken to protect their physical and psychological health. It is important to note that this applies to all office workers, irrespective of whether they are employed full time, part time, or on a temporary basis.
A key right that derives from the Health and Safety Act is the right employees have to leave their workplace should they feel that their well-being is in danger. Of course, before that occurs it would be wise to express any health and safety-related concerns you may have to your employer. Employees also have the right to contact the relevant authorities (in this case, the local authority or the Health and Safety Excutive) if they feel that the current regulations are not being followed at their workplace.
The Act also mentions that staff have a right to receive training on how to best perform their job safely, free of charge. It is also your right as a worker to be informed, verbally or in writing, of the specific measures that are in place in the office with regards to health and safety issues.
Last but not least (since accidents can happen even when measures against them have been taken), it is the right of every office employee to be covered by their employer’s liability insurance.
Specific health and safety considerations that apply to office workers
In addition to the rights laid out by the Health and Safety Act, there are a number of specific rules that are in place to protect your well-being as an office employee. These rules are related to:
Office Fire Safety regulations
The Fire Safety Order of 2005 outlines a series of specific rights that employees have in terms of fire protection and prevention in the office. There should be a person responsible for carrying out risk assessments of the working areas, which should include emergency exits, fire doors, escape routes, fire extinguishers, fire alarms, and other related equipment, as well as the availability of meeting points and emergency lighting. Every member of staff in the office should know what to do in the event of fire, and it is your right to take part in at least one fire drill every year and every time you join a new office.
Every office should have properly-maintained first aid equipment and a member of staff who has been trained in providing first aid. Although offices are generally considered low-risk environments, first-aid kits should be stocked with basic items like bandages, safety pins, gloves, and wound dressings.
If your working day in the office lasts more than 6 hours, you have the right to enjoy an uninterrupted 20-minute break per working day.
Other aspects of Health and Safety in the workplace include the right to work in an office where temperatures are reasonable, the right to be provided with a source of drinking water, and the right to have workstations that are adequately setup (including furniture and computing equipment). Any electrical equipment used in the office should be tested regularly and cabling should be arranged so as to prevent slips, trips, and fire hazards.
Remember that being knowledgeable about your rights as an employee is the first step towards enjoying a safe working environment.