Workplace health and safety is about more than just avoiding accidents and injuries. It’s also about providing an environment that is designed for maximum comfort, health and productivity.
Things like overcrowding, excess noise, poor temperature control, obstructions, inadequate lighting, lack of privacy and bad workstation design can all contribute to reducing well-being and in turn, workplace productivity. This not only applies to commercial businesses but also to not-for-profits and church organisations. Being a non-profit or charity is no reason not to provide a safe and healthy environment for workers, volunteers and visitors.
The process of designing and arranging workplace environments is referred to as ‘ergonomics’. Poor ergonomics can lead to problems such as muscular and repetitive strain injuries, fatigue and illnesses. Here are some tips for good design.
According to WorkSafe Victoria, there are three types of space to be considered when it comes to office layouts. These are primary, secondary and tertiary. Primary space consists of amenities, meeting rooms and other shared areas; secondary refers to storage areas and corridors; and tertiary is for workstations. Overall, Australian Standards recommend a minimum of 10sqm per person for all space.
One of the most important things to consider is that of safe access. Hazards such as uneven floor surfaces and poor equipment placement can lead to trips and falls. Adequate space also needs to be allowed for the opening of cupboards, cabinets and drawers.
Workstations health and safety considerations
6sqm per person is generally recommended for workstations. However it depends on the nature of the work, the type of equipment and storage needed and the needs of the employee. Workstations should also be flexible and adaptable rather than fixed, enabling users to adjust them as required and to have a level of control of their own work space. The design and arrangement of workstations to suit those that use them forms part of workplace ergonomics. Considerations include:
- Chairs. In many offices a lot of sitting down is done! Workstation chairs should be adjustable, stable, provide good lumbar support, and have a curved front edge to prevent digging into the underside of the thighs. In terms of positioning, the feet should touch and floor and thighs be parallel to the floor. In some cases a footrest might be needed.
- Seated positioning. When in a seated position, the elbows also be approximately level with the keyboard. The eyes should also be level with or slightly higher than the top of the screen. Other considerations here may include the placement of the mouse, telephone, in / out trays, equipment, implements and documents (a document holder could prove useful).
- Partitions. These are designed to separate workstations and provide a level of privacy, and can help to reduce distractions and improve concentration.
- Shelving. Shelves should be placed to enable easy access without excessive reaching or bending.
- Air quality. Poor air quality in an enclosed workplace can have a profound affect on the health of employees. Airborne contaminants can lead to reactions such as sneezing, eye irritations and asthma – especially in individuals predisposed to respiratory conditions or allergies. Steps should be taken to ensure good air quality, such as a no-smoking policy, regular cleaning of premises, adequate ventilation and air filtration (such as through HVAC units).
- Temperature. Where the internal temperature of a building is too hot or cold it can result in discomfort, fatigue, and heat or cold related conditions. Thermal comfort is influenced by several factors as well as air temperature however, such as air movement, radiant temperatures and humidity. WorkSafe recommends an internal temperature of 20 to 26°C for sedentary work (or lower where exertion is required), and air movement of between 0.1m and 0.2m per second.
- Lighting. Workplace lighting needs to be adequate to provide good visibility and to avoid eyestrain and excess glare. Stairwells, corridors and other shared areas should also be adequately lit to prevent accidents.
- Noise. Exposure to excessive noise (more than 85dB over an 8-hour continuous period) can result in ear damage and loss of hearing. During noisy periods (such as during construction or renovations) workers should be moved away from the source or provided with noise protection.
- Kitchens / relaxation areas. These areas should be provided for tea and meal breaks, and include access to hot water and a sink.
The above guidelines provide only a basic outline of workplace ergonomics of course. If you need more detail you can access the WorkSafe Officewise guide here.
For more tips see our other articles on healthy workplaces.
Written by Tess OliverTags: employees, health & safety, volunteers