Take a holistic approach to office design

When it comes to accidents at work and illnesses caused by dangerous working conditions, most people would think that they are issues confined to the construction site, factory or other places where there are obvious hazards. But the true picture is not so clear-cut.

In 2009, an estimated 1.2 million suffered from an illness they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work, resulting in a staggering 29.3 million work days lost.

Surprisingly many of these days lost were not in heavy industry, but in offices typical of the many thousands to be found across the UK.

The risks to people working in offices may not be so obvious but they are real and recognised in the latest Health and Safety legislation. The most common types of accident usually involve trips and falls whilst more long-term health problems include back and neck pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI).

In fact back problems associated with working in an office have become a major health issue.

When you think about it though, this is no surprise.  Human beings have two natural positions, laying down and standing up. Sitting down is not a natural position for us but people who work in an office could spend more nearly 300,00 hours in this position over their lifetime.

If you are not sitting correctly, long-term damage is almost inevitable. An incorrect posture can significantly increase the pressure on the intervertebral discs and so it is no surprise that the science of ergonomics has become so important. At the same time it is important to take a holistic approach to office design or when choosing, office furniture, restaurant furniture and hotel furniture.

By doing this, managers responsible for buying or commissioning contract furniture can ensure they meet their Health and Safety obligations, improve the wellbeing of staff and even help boost business efficiency.

To do this it is best to start from the ground up. Worn and tired carpets, for example, can present a significant tripping hazard. Today there are many floor coverings to choose from and carpet tiles boast significant advantages over traditional loom carpets – particularly in an office environment.

They are easy to install and its possible to lay on top of laminate, vinyl or concrete without the need for underlay.

This helps to keep costs, while damaged or worn carpet tiles can be individually replaced, avoiding the expense of re-carpeting the whole floor area.

It is also possible to minimise disruption and therefore maintain business efficiency during the fitting of commercial carpet tiles as they can be fitted in small areas at a time, rather than clearing the entire room.

Once the floor has been sorted, the science of ergonomics really comes into play. Ergonomics is the scientific discipline concerned with designing according to human needs.

When applied in an office environment this would include the use of chairs that provide proper support for the back and a tilting mechanism to minimise the pressure on the intervertebral discs. Movement on a chair also allows contraction and relaxation of the muscles and stimulation of blood circulation, which distributes nutrition and oxygen.

Office managers may then need to choose desks, and many ranges now have height adjustable options, which can be useful in offices that need to accommodate people with reduced mobility or other special needs.

Many office furniture ranges also include built-in cable management in the legs and supporting beams, which can significantly reduce the wiring clutter found in many offices, further reducing the risk of trips and falls.

From looking down at the floor, it is now time to look up to the ceiling and consider lighting options. Too much bright light can cause visual discomfort, and reflections on computer screens, making it difficult to see what is displayed. If possible position desks at right angles to the window for the best use of light and to minimise reflections.

If there is a lack of natural light talk to an expert to discover the most efficient and economical solution as well as the one that is most comfortable for employees.

When taken together, these elements of office design will not only help you meet stringent Health and Safety requirements and improve the working environment for you and your employees, but also save your business money in the longer term whilst improving business efficiency.


George Maitland has been a leading figure for over 20 years, supplying restaurant furniture and carpet tiles, though more recently he advises on issues relating to Business Efficiency and avoiding Work Related and Personal Injury Claims, to the hospitality industry.

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