Essentials of a Safe Working Environment: A Case Study

Jenny Whiting is a local authority health and safety officer. The council she works for has a number of offices and public access sites. Part of her job is to inspect these and ensure safe working environments.

Here Jenny discusses the type of things she looks for when she goes out on one of her safety checks.

A lot to check for safety

It’s surprising how much you need to check when you’re reviewing safe working environments as a Health and Safety Officer. Obviously managers, supervisors and even staff are responsible for ensuring their office, work area or public access area is safe. It’s easy for people to become complacent, however. This is when it’s useful for someone like me to come round to give a second opinion.

One of the first things I look for is a clean environment. Even the smallest items of rubbish such as screwed up pieces of paper can be a Risk in the Workplace. For instance, someone who sidesteps to avoid treading on a bit of rubbish can easily collide with a colleague, an item of furniture or machinery.

This leads to the next issue: overcrowding. Space is often scarce and costly, so some managers cram as much as they can into a given area. This can be dangerous, and I’ve often had to advise managers on the room they must make available for staff and equipment.

Common Staff Safety Concerns

When I’m on my rounds, one of the common concerns staff bring to me is lighting and ventilation. There may be too much glare on a Computer Screen (VDU); too little light to read a document; not enough fresh air because a window is jammed; or too many draughts.

It’s almost impossible to please everybody. I usually find there are a lot of actions both managers and staff can take, however, to bring about improvements.

Another issue is suitable seating. In any workplace or public area, seats wear out or break. Surprisingly, a lot of people just make do. Or they push the broken seat to one side, find another and don’t say anything.

Broken and worn seats are potentially hazardous, especially if the seat collapses under someone. Almost every time I do my rounds, I find at least one or two damaged seats, some of which staff are still using. I make a note and immediately report the matter to the manager. Next time I visit, I confirm that the damaged seats have gone.

Passages and Stairs

Some of the obvious areas I check for safety are the passages and stairs. These must be clean, free from trailing wires and other obstacles, and have properly laid flooring. If a carpet has worn through or the edge has curled up, I place a piece of yellow and black adhesive safety tape across it and notify the manager.

Drinking Water

One other matter that’s come to the fore in recent years is the drinking water. I’ve noticed that more and more staff bring bottled water to work rather than drink from the tap in the kitchen areas. I’ve arranged for testing of the tap water in just about every office in the council. The contractors found only one problem in an older building where there were still lead pipes. Nonetheless, I’ve urged managers to consider installing bottled water dispensers.

A Safe Working Environment

Apart from all these checks, I ensure that suitable Safety Signs are available if an incident occurs; that staff have received proper training about safety issues; and that all machinery has up-to-date service records. I hope that in this way I make some contribution to guaranteeing pleasant and safe working environments.

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