Identifying hazards in the office

This guidance can help employers identify and eliminate or reduce and control hazards in the office.

Consider the hazards

Offices can have a range of hazards. Some hazards are obvious but others are not so apparent. Examples of office hazards to look for include:

  • mechanical hazards, such as filing cabinets that can tip when heavy top drawers are open, and tripping hazards
  • physical hazards, like glare or reflections from screens, poorly designed chairs that do not provide adequate back support, poorly designed jobs and tasks that demand prolonged work in a fixed posture
  • chemical hazards, for example, vapours in the atmosphere from paint, solvents or airborne particles such as photocopier toner
  • work-related factors, for example:
    • low job control
    •  high and low job demands
    • poor support
    • poor organisational change management
    • poor organisational justice
    • low recognition and reward
    • low role clarity
    • poor workplace relationships
    • poor environmental conditions
    • remote and isolated work
    • violent or traumatic events
  • electrical hazards such as damaged electrical cords or overloaded power points that may lead to the risk of electric shock

Check records of injuries and incidents

In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to notify WorkSafe of incidents and keep records of the incident. The OHS Act also requires employers to keep information and records relating to the health and safety of employees.

The Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013 (WIRC Act) also requires employers to keep a register of injuries. Under the WIRC Act, a worker or person acting on a worker's behalf may enter workplace particulars of an injury in the register.

If employers become aware of a workplace injury not in the register they must enter workplace particulars about the injury as far as reasonably practicable. Check the injury register, first aid reports and workers' compensation claim forms for information about the work tasks, the area in which work is performed and the activity being undertaken at the time of injury. Also check the factors thought to be related to the incident and the type of symptoms or injury reported.

Check particularly for:

  • reports of pain in the back, neck, shoulders and upper limbs
  • cuts or bruising
  • trip and fall incidents
  • headache and vision problems

The absence of any history of accidents or incidents, or a small number of such incidents should not be taken to mean that the hazard does not exist.

Identifying hazards

WorkSafe's Compliance Code: Hazardous Manual Handling and Safe Work Australia's Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 and Principles of Good Work Design handbook provide guidance for identifying some hazards in an office environment and may help employers identify and control risks.

Walk-through hazard inspection

A checklist is a useful method for identifying hazards and you do not have to be an expert in health and safety to use one. A good checklist provides an organised method to ensure you do not miss hazards. It enables the gathering and recording of important information so it can be considered more thoroughly during the risk assessment.

Following is an example of a checklist to help identify a variety of hazards in an office. Check the box if the issue is present in the office and then look at the possible solutions to eliminate or control risks from the hazard. Consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) when assessing the tasks and planning and introducing risk controls.

Office hazard checklist

Job design

                If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                Possible solutions

                • Mix highly repetitive tasks with other tasks requiring different movements and postures.
                • Mix tasks requiring static or fixed postures with other tasks requiring more dynamic postures.
                • Mix tasks requiring high levels of concentration with other less-demanding tasks.
                • Provide training on how to vary tasks and postures throughout the day.
                • Supervisors ensure that employees vary their tasks and postures throughout the day.

                Social and psychosocial issues

                            If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                            Possible solutions

                            • documented training for all new employees
                            • consultation processes for employees, for example, regular staff meetings and processes
                            • policy and procedures on prevention and management of bullying, harassment and occupational violence
                            • policy, procedures and communication devices for prevention and management of potentially violent situations

                            Hazardous manual handling

                                      If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                      Possible solutions

                                      • Use powered mechanical aids to handle large, bulky or awkward items or, if not reasonably practicable, use an ergonomically designed trolley.
                                      • Use lifts where possible for moving loads or, if not reasonably practicable, use ramps or use suitable trolleys on stairs. Loads should not be carried by hand on stairs. If this is not possible, ensure the load is small and light enough to carry in one hand to the side of the body.
                                      • Relocate frequently used items to within the preferred working zone.
                                      • Use powered office equipment such as staplers, hole punches or binders to reduce the high-force actions sometimes required to operate manual equipment.
                                      • Design rest or work breaks into the tasks to allow rest and recovery time for muscles that have been working.
                                      • Set up workstations to prevent awkward postures.
                                      • Ensure employees move and stretch at regular intervals.

                                      Environmental factors

                                                              If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                              Possible solutions

                                                              • To choose appropriate lighting levels for tasks use recommendations from AS/NZ 1680.1: Interior and Workplace Lighting, Part 1: General principles and recommendations.
                                                              • Install blinds, curtains or shutters on windows to control external light sources.
                                                              • Improve office lighting by relocating or increasing lighting.
                                                              • Improve office lighting by replacing defective light sources, cleaning light sources, increasing the wattage of the light source, replacing light source with a more suitable type or colour.
                                                              • Provide graduated lighting between areas.
                                                              • Provide eyesight testing for employees engaged in visually demanding tasks.
                                                              • Direct lighting so it does not throw distracting shadows on steps, stairs or other walking surfaces.
                                                              • Isolate people or control the noise of items of plant or equipment.
                                                              • Increase the height or change the direction of sound absorbency screens or partitions to reduce distraction noise.
                                                              • Adjust the air flow in the office or redirect the air flow.
                                                              • Install extraction fans around photocopiers and other such equipment in frequent use.
                                                              • Redesign office layout so employees are not required to work close to possible radiation sources for long periods of time.
                                                              • Check that employees are not exposed to environmental factors such as heat, cold, chemicals or electricity that may affect their behaviour or performance.

                                                              Office layout

                                                                        If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                        Possible solutions

                                                                        • Relocate equipment and workstations to provide adequate space for the tasks being performed.
                                                                        • Review the tasks being conducted and consider whether they need to be done in that office or in another location.
                                                                        • Space for busy foot traffic must comply with the requirements of the Building Code of Australia.
                                                                        • Ensure aisle widths of at least 1m in intermediate foot traffic areas.
                                                                        • Allocate areas for tasks that require dedicated space and install appropriate workstations for those tasks.

                                                                        Workstations

                                                                                        If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                        Possible solutions

                                                                                        • Assess each workstation using a workstation checklist. WorkSafe's Office workstation design guidance includes a workstation checklist.
                                                                                        • Provide height-adjustable sitting workstations.
                                                                                        • Design reception or counter areas to reflect the work being done and the level of security necessary.
                                                                                        • Provide height-adjustable standing workstations.
                                                                                        • Provide suitable adjustable seating to match the type of work and the floor surfaces, for example, glides or braked castors on hard floor surfaces.
                                                                                        • Provide each employee with their own headset.

                                                                                        Office equipment and tools

                                                                                                    If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                    Possible solutions

                                                                                                    • Provide access to an electric stapler and heavy-duty stapler.
                                                                                                    • Provide a lever-action staple remover for frequent staple removal.
                                                                                                    • Store sharp tools in a manner that does not expose persons to risk of being stabbed or cut.
                                                                                                    • Provide letter-opening machines for bulk opening of letters.
                                                                                                    • Provide a powered hole punch or a mechanical punch designed specifically for thick documents.

                                                                                                    Storage

                                                                                                              If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                              Possible solutions

                                                                                                              • Provide additional storage close to workstations.
                                                                                                              • Relocate infrequently used items to off-site storage.
                                                                                                              • Provide additional shelf storage.
                                                                                                              • Relocate heavy items to shelving between knee and shoulder height.
                                                                                                              • Provide additional general storage areas.
                                                                                                              • Secure filing cabinets and cupboards to the wall or floor to prevent them falling over.
                                                                                                              • Provide filing cabinets fitted with locking devices to prevent more than one drawer opening at a time.

                                                                                                              Copying equipment

                                                                                                                          If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                                          Possible solutions

                                                                                                                          • Repair or replace equipment.
                                                                                                                          • Prepare safe use and maintenance procedures.
                                                                                                                          • Ensure supplier provides toner cartridges in sealed state.
                                                                                                                          • Store used toner cartridges in sealed container.
                                                                                                                          • Post copies of current toner SDS close to photocopiers.

                                                                                                                          Hazardous substances

                                                                                                                                        If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                                                        Possible solutions

                                                                                                                                        • All hazardous substances in use are identified, assessed and controlled with documented safe work procedures.
                                                                                                                                        • Eliminate or isolate processes that generate dust, smoke, fumes or gases.
                                                                                                                                        • Eliminate chemicals or products known to be toxic, corrosive, inflammable or explosive, or substitute with less hazardous chemicals or products.
                                                                                                                                        • Ensure good ventilation of areas where chemicals and products are stored or used.
                                                                                                                                        • Provide chemical training to all staff required to use chemicals and products.

                                                                                                                                        Electrical hazards

                                                                                                                                                  If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                                                                  Possible solutions

                                                                                                                                                  • Install sufficient fixed power points in area.
                                                                                                                                                  • Ensure all portable electrical leads are regularly tested in line with AS/NZS 3760: In-service safety inspection and testing of electrical equipment.
                                                                                                                                                  • Remove all damaged electrical leads from service.
                                                                                                                                                  • Replace multiple plugs with power boards, provided there is sufficient capacity in the electrical circuit.

                                                                                                                                                  Housekeeping

                                                                                                                                                                          If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                                                                                          Possible solutions

                                                                                                                                                                          • Use slip-resistant floor surfaces in areas where ice, grease or dust creates a slipping hazard.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Slip-resistant door mats at entrances should be secured or large enough to remain in place.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Use hazardous warning signs and procedures for the immediate management of spills.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Clean floor surfaces outside working hours or use an effective system to exclude personnel from floors that may be hazardous until dry after cleaning.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Choose floor surfaces that ensure non-slip conditions when employees move from one floor surface to another, or treat floor surfaces to make the slip resistance of both surfaces similar.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Ensure suitable footwear is chosen and worn when doing the task.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Ensure the slope of a ramp is no more than 1 in 8 and if people in wheelchairs may have to use the ramp, the maximum slope should be 1 in 12 as per AS1428.2: Design for access and mobility – enhanced and additional requirements – buildings and facilities.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Ramps should be made slip-resistant with foot grips or textured surface.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Regularly review and maintain uneven, damaged floor surfaces and external access areas.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Ensure aisles or passageways remain uncluttered at all times and keep work areas tidy.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Paint a bright highlight strip on the nosing of steps that are poorly visually defined.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Where doors open onto stairs, provide a landing with sufficient space for the door to open fully without striking the user.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Eliminate isolated low steps or, if not reasonably practicable, ensure isolated low steps are highlighted.
                                                                                                                                                                          • Develop a system so that faulty or damaged equipment is taken out of service and replaced or repaired.

                                                                                                                                                                          General health and safety issues in the office

                                                                                                                                                                                If you have checked a box you should take action to address the issue.

                                                                                                                                                                                Possible solutions

                                                                                                                                                                                • Use a safety step to gain access to items at head or shoulder height.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Ensure appropriate ladders, steps or stairs are used to climb or descend levels.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Ensure stock, materials or displays are not stacked above shoulder height.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Ensure ladders and steps are stable or secured when in use.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Ensure ladders or steps are well maintained with non-slip feet and treads in good condition.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Employees using ladders should not carry items.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Provide adequate-length ladders for tasks:
                                                                                                                                                                                  • The user's waist should not be higher than the top rung of the ladder.
                                                                                                                                                                                  • The user should not place their feet on the top three rungs of a straight ladder or top two steps of a step ladder.
                                                                                                                                                                                • Ensure the tops of ladders are attached to a secure structure to prevent slipping or sliding.

                                                                                                                                                                                What to consider when assessing risk

                                                                                                                                                                                Employers should consider the following when assessing risks in their business:

                                                                                                                                                                                What to consider when controlling risk

                                                                                                                                                                                The range of measures for controlling risk involves elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering and administration controls and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

                                                                                                                                                                                Apply risk control measures as appropriate in the order listed below. A combination of risk controls may be needed for some tasks.

                                                                                                                                                                                Evaluate control measures

                                                                                                                                                                                Evaluating risk control measures helps determine their effectiveness. For example, introducing exercises or rest breaks for repetitive keying tasks does not completely control all risks involved in the task. The evaluation of control measures may involve reworking the process of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk controls.

                                                                                                                                                                                Satisfactory control of risk is often a gradual consultative process. It involves trialling and refining risk control measures in the light of employee feedback, new technology and changes in knowledge over time.

                                                                                                                                                                                Safety management systems

                                                                                                                                                                                To manage health and safety, every organisation, large or small, needs to evaluate the degree of risk associated with its operations. The higher the risks, the more extensive the management systems needed to maintain a safe workplace. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of current systems, an organisation is better able to identify and plan improvements to the performance of its health and safety management.

                                                                                                                                                                                Your legal duties

                                                                                                                                                                                The OHS Act requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and HSRs on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.

                                                                                                                                                                                Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.

                                                                                                                                                                                Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The Risk Management Approach to Health and Safety.