Offices

Injuries from slips, trips and falls, lifting and carrying heavy loads, and poor equipment design are just some of the ways office workers can be harmed at work.

What are the risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 (HSWA), every business has a responsibility to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers, and that others are not put at risk by the work of the business (for example, customers, visitors, children and young people, or the general public).

First, you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

The following are examples of only some of the health and safety risks for office workers. We also provide general guidance on how to manage your work health and safety risks.

Bullying harms workers and is a significant issue in New Zealand. It can affect people both physically and mentally, can disrupt workplaces, and lower work performance. Bullying can happen at any time and all levels in a business.

How are workers and others harmed?

Bullying at work is repeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker or group of workers that can lead to physical or psychological harm. Bullying can be physical, verbal or social.

Common bullying behaviours fit in two main categories:

  • attacks that are direct and personal or
  • indirect and task-related.

Some of these behaviours may also fall under other types of behaviour such as discrimination or violence.

Examples of direct bullying include, but not limited to, belittling remarks, undermining integrity, lies being told, sense of judgment questioned, opinions marginalised.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. For example, building good relationships in a respectful work environment including having a ‘no-bullying tolerated’ work culture. All workers (including HSRs and managers) need to understand the core values of the business and their expected conduct. Workers should be consulted with and involved in the development of these statements.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

For more detailed information on managing bullying, see our guidance and resources on bullying prevention for workers and small businesses.

 

Work-related stress is increasingly becoming an issue for workplaces.

There is often confusion between challenge and stress in the workplace. While challenge at work can have positive effects on people, work-related stress is a work-related health issue that can pose risks to psychological and physical health.

How are workers and others harmed?

The effects of work-related stress can vary from individual to individual. In general, work-related stress is associated with:

  • illness and disease
  • low morale and engagement
  • anxiety
  • lower performance and productivity
  • antisocial behaviours.

What can you do?

First you should always try to eliminate the risk. Where this is not possible, you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Set achievable demands for your workers in relation to agreed hours of work.
  • Match worker’s skills and abilities to job demands.
  • Support workers to have a level of control over their pace of work.
  • Develop multi-disciplinary teams to share ideas and perspectives on ways to address situations.
  • Involve workers in decisions that may impact their health and safety, and have processes to enable workers to raise any issues and concerns they might have.
  • Ensure managers and supervisors have the capability and knowledge to identify, understand and support workers who may be feeling stressed.
  • Have agreed policies and procedures to prevent or resolve unacceptable behaviour.
  • Engage and consult with workers before implementing change processes, and ensure they genuinely have the ability to influence the decisions you make.
  • Provide workers with access to independent counselling services.
  • Always ask workers for input on identifying health and safety risks, and when choosing solutions. People are more likely to take responsibility and make good choices if they’ve been involved in the conversation. Workers are the eyes and ears of your business. They know where the health and safety pressure points are, and can suggest practical, cost-effective solutions.
  • Always train new workers on what the risks are and how to keep healthy and safe.
  • Make sure workers know how to make suggestions, raise questions or concerns.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy loads such as paper or computer equipment can put workers at risk of serious injury.

How are workers and others harmed?

Workers are at risk of injury from lifting and carrying particularly when:

  • a load is too heavy, it’s difficult to grasp, or it’s too large
  • the physical effort is too strenuous
  • they are required to bend and twist when handling heavy loads.

When a person reaches for items above shoulder height, their back becomes arched and their arms act as long levers. This makes the load difficult to control and significantly increases the risk of injury.

Injuries and conditions can include:

  • muscle sprains and strains
  • injuries to muscles, ligaments, intervertebral discs and other structures in the back
  • injuries to soft tissues such as nerves, ligaments and tendons in the wrists, arms, shoulders, neck or legs
  • abdominal hernias
  • chronic pain.

Some of these conditions are known as repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) and work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WRMSD).

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

Here are some examples:

  • Use lifting equipment or an ergonomically designed trolley.
  • Train workers in proper lifting techniques.
  • Use lifts where possible for moving loads, or if not reasonably practicable, use ramps or suitable trolleys on stairs.
  • Relocate frequently used items to a dedicated storage area.
  • Position shelving and racking in storage areas at accessible heights.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Office clutter, uneven floor surfaces and poor lighting can put workers at risk of slip, trip or fall injuries.

How are workers and others harmed?

When someone falls as a result of a slip or trip, the injury can range from minor (bruises and scrapes) to more serious, including broken bones or head trauma. The severity of the injury will depend on the circumstances.

Examples of how injuries can be caused include:

  • unmarked changes in floor levels
  • slippery floors from water or other liquids
  • poor housekeeping or obstructed views – for example, trailing cables, boxes or bags
  • damaged flooring including stairs
  • not using stair hand rails
  • cramped conditions and poor work flow through the office (for example, desks too close together)
  • standing on swivel or wheeled chairs, or on desks
  • poor lighting.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk. Here are some examples:

  • Clean any spills immediately and dry the floor and use signage.
  • Ensure work areas and walkways are well-lit.
  • Provide assistance so workers can see where they are going when carrying large items.
  • Avoid having cables crossing walkways, or make sure cables crossing walkways are covered.
  • Consider floor use when choosing floor coverings. Design floors to be anti-slip. Secure mats, rugs and carpets that do not lay flat.
  • Maintain flooring in good condition. Regularly check for loose, damaged and worn flooring and replace or repair.
  • Mark changes in floor levels and ensure these areas are well lit.
  • Remove obstacles from walkways and keep them clutter free.
  • Provide equipment so workers don’t have to stand on chairs or desks to reach heights, for example, stepladders or step stools.
  • Consider scheduling cleaning for times when there are fewer people around.
  • Implement a process where workers can raise concerns about maintenance issues or any other concerns they have about the office layout or materials.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.

Workers who spend their day sitting at a desk and working on a computer are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and equipment.

How are workers and others harmed?

Office workers can spend a lot of their work day seated at a desk, using a computer or taking phone calls. As a result they are prone to strains and other injuries related to posture and repetitive movement.

Improper use of equipment can also contribute to people getting injured, for example, incorrect chair height, inadequate equipment spacing or incorrect desk or monitor height.

What can you do?

First you must always eliminate the risk where you’re reasonably able to. Where you’re not reasonably able to, then you need to consider what you can do to minimise the risk.

Here are some examples:

  • Provide adjustable furniture and equipment – one size does not fit all when it comes to chairs and work surfaces.
  • Educate workers about their head position; try to keep the weight of the head directly above the neck.
  • Encourage workers not to slouch when sitting at a desk.
  • Ensure workers move their chairs as close to their work as possible to avoid leaning and reaching. Make sure monitors are placed directly in front of workers, with the top no higher than eye level. Keyboards should be directly in front of the monitor so people don’t have to frequently turn their head and neck.
  • Make sure workers’ arms are supported. If arms are not supported, the muscles of people’s neck and shoulders are likely to be fatigued by the end of the day.
  • If possible, provide people with a hands free phone.
  • Ensure monitors are not too close to avoid eye strain close. It should be at least an arm’s length away.
  • Control screen glare by using filters or installing UV blinds on window. Avoid placing a monitor in front of a window or a bright background. Encourage workers to take breaks and move around where possible.

You need to select the most effective control measures that are proportionate to the risk, and appropriate to your work situation.