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Personal Safety At Work

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 7 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Workplace Safety Health And Safety

Fresh water, safe walkways and adequate personal space – these are three of the basic requirements for health and safety at work. The Health & Safety Commission is the government body responsible for deciding and promoting national guidelines. They provide information about everything from risk assessment to safe recycling – if you do it, there’s a policy on it. Since its establishment in 1974, British work accidents have reduced by two thirds. Reduce your risk by reading our quick guide to personal safety at work.

Staying Cool at Work

During the last few years, tropical heatwaves have become a big concern for the Health and Safety Commission, but many employees still overlook this important safety message. ‘Heat stress’ can cause dehydration, accidents, and even hospitalisation – so if you suffer from uncomfortable temperatures at work, you have the right to request an assessment from your employer. The Commission has published guidelines for employers about maintaining the thermal environment. It recommends ventilation in every place of work.

Although employees have some control over the clothing they wear and the duration of high-exertion activities, heat-control is an employer’s responsibility. Employers are required to maintain temperatures of no less than 16 degrees C (in an office) and not less than 13 degrees C in a place where work involves physical activity.

Of course some employees may work in extreme temperatures due to the nature of their jobs, and these are governed by specific laws. In this case, employees should have use of special clothing (like thermals for those in a cool environment) and access to rest areas (which are temperature-monitored).

Workplace Checklist

The Health and Safety Commission publishes extensive guidelines about workplace safety. Here’s a quick checklist – make sure your workplace measures up!
  • Lights: can you work without squinting? There should be enough lighting for you to see clearly and work without eyestrain. If the room lighting is insufficient you should have a lamp at your desk. Emergency lighting should be arranged for anyone who works in a hazardous area (like a factory)
  • Cleanliness: is your workplace clean and tidy? Your working area should be kept clean – if not by you then by a contracted staff-member. (If you’re not sure who’s responsible, talk to your employer.)
  • Space: do you have the space to move your elbows? Every employee should have a minimum of 11 cubic metres of dedicated workspace. To work out how much you have, multiply the width and length of your desk/chair space and multiply the result by 3. A square of 2m x 2m (or 4m x 1m) is judged to be adequate.
  • Spinal support: do you get back pain? If you find your work position uncomfortable you should request an assessment. Your chair should provide support for your lower back, and if your feet don’t touch the floor you’ll also need a footrest. You could also request a hand-rest for your keyboard, a document holder for typing, and a screen shield or magnifier.
  • Walking around at work: are there clear routes for exit from the workplace? Pedestrian and vehicle routes should be kept separate; staircases should have handrails on one side; and doors which open both ways should have a window in them to avoid accidents.
  • Washrooms: did you know that adequate washrooms are required by the HS Commission? Every place of work should have washrooms with hot and cold water, soap, and towels.
  • Drinking water: do you have access to fresh water? Your employer has a responsibility to provide suitable drinking water (and don’t forget we should all be drinking 2 litres every day!).

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