For us freelancers and contractors plying our trades in an office environment, safety at work will probably not be at the forefront of our minds. And for obvious reasons. We’re not exactly operating heavy machinery where one false move means one lost limb, or walking on the edge of a scaffold pole while balancing a bucket of cement atop our heads.

Nonetheless, every year approximately 2000 office workers are absent from work for more than three days due to workplace accidents; and these statistics don’t take account of illnesses resulting from office work.

The fact is, employers and self-employed people have to undertake risk assessments at work. Every business which has five or more employees should have a written health and safety policy and record the significant findings of their risk assessment.

Here’s what the Health & Safety Executive asks you to remember when making your risk assessment:

– a hazard is anything that may cause harm, such as chemicals, electricity, working from ladders, an open drawer;

– the risk is the chance, high or low, that somebody could be harmed by these and other hazards, together with an indication of how serious the harm could be.

The HSE lays down a few basic requirements for office environments:

– Lighting: should be adequate to avoid causing eye-strain or other potential visual impairments.

– Temperature: should be at least 16oC and although there is no law-binding upper limit, there is research which suggests work-based accidents become more likely above a temperature of 24oC.

– Drinking water: on tap.

– Toilets: a sufficient number, clean and fully functioning.

– Washing: provide hot and cold water, soap and towels.

– Space: provide at least 11 cubic metres for each person permanently occupying a workplace.

Many of these precautions are pretty common sense but it’s important to get too complacent.

More info

Sitting at a desk and working via a computer also requires taking the right precautions to avoid back and eye-strain related problems.

Download the HSE’s Introduction to Health & Safety, a PDF for small businesses.