Millions of people in the UK work in an office. On the face of it you might think it’s a pretty healthy place to be, compared to some workplaces.
But the fact is, although offices are usually safe from major injury risk, they still contribute significantly to Britain’s ill health statistics. Most office spaces can improve what they offer for the people working in them.
In the last reporting year 1.3 million workers in the UK were suffering from a work related illness and 0.5 million of these were suffering from work related stress, depression or anxiety. A similar number were suffering musculoskeletal illnesses too (muscles, joints and bones). A staggering 25.9 million working days were lost as a result*.
This week we’ll look at the first five things you can do to improve your office workplace, all of which will reduce the chance of ill health cropping up in the first place (many of these have legislative requirements attached to them, so make sure you understand your basic legal obligations too):
…is about getting the right balance… you need enough, but not too much! The best office lighting is bright but indirect natural light. This gives your team good visibility, reducing eye strain, but it also means there is no distracting glare onto display screens or from office furniture. Review your light levels and make sure they suit the space, the tasks and the people doing them. Try and review during bright, dull and night conditions so you capture everything. Some artificial light is unavoidable of course, we do live in the UK after all – artificial light should be good quality, flicker free and preferably daylight spectrum.
Legislation says offices must be heated to at least 16°c, but in practice, 18°c to 22°c is typically about right. Too cold means it’s uncomfortable to sit for long periods and harder to do typical office tasks; too hot means it saps energy and makes everyone sleepy! Temperature is often a hard one to get right, with different people wanting different temperatures. This discontent can be as much about control as it is about comfort – I’m not recommending it, but I have I have known companies who disconnect the thermostat but leave it in place – people often feel more comfortable just by twiddling the control to suit them, regardless of the actual air temperature!
Workstations and Ergonomics
Every Display Screen Equipment (DSE) user should have been given workstation set-up training and asked to complete a workstation assessment – that’s your start point. Sort out any individual issues arising from this assessment and repeat every three years or sooner if something significant changes (like an office move). Using a screen, mouse and keyboard can be a significant cause of aches, pains, absence and even long tern illness if not managed effectively.
Layout and Space
Don’t assume everyone is as delighted as you are with your lovely fashionable open plan office layout. Bring down the walls and improve team communication by all means, but be sensitive to the fact that introverts and ambiverts need their own space occasionally to perform to their optimum levels. Not every worker is an extrovert – many people are overstimulated by open plan workplaces and will not deliver to their potential if you force them to behave like an extrovert for eight hours a day. See Susan Cains excellent writing on this very subject. The very best workplaces have a fluid space policy with numerous different workstations to circulate between, some in busy areas and some not. Monitor your teams by their output and quality, not by their presence!
[ctt template=”3″ link=”sSDy4″ via=”no” ]Monitor your teams by their output and quality, not by their presence![/ctt]
Stress, anxiety and depression are just three common illnesses your team might encounter, whether caused through work or not. There are loads of possible improvements you can make to workplace layout, workloads and work organisation to reduce the chance of this happening. Have an open and honest ‘talking policy’ for all mental health issues. Be proactive and prevent them occurring in the first place; if you haven’t managed to do that, spot issues early on and get them fixed.
That’s it for this week, I hope this article has given you some improvement ideas for your own workplace. Check back next week for another five office health improvements.
If you need any support in your business with any of the above campaigns, get in touch with us.
Director, Haysman Consulting Limited
Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner
*Estimates based on self-reports from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) in 2015/16