Modern office designs should be flexible in office layout, furniture, equipment and the environment to suit the needs of the users and the work they perform. It is important to take design into account in the early stages, not just when outfitting a building. WorkSafe's guidance Designing Safer Buildings and Structures has information for building designers.
It is essential to provide adequate space in an office for a person to operate effectively. There are three types of space to consider:
- primary space – amenities, meeting rooms, lift lobbies and similar areas
- secondary space – corridors and storage
- tertiary space – space required in a workstation to accommodate a desk, chair, drawers, filing cabinet and other necessary equipment
The tertiary space that office-based employees require can vary depending on the employee's role. Employers should consider employees' roles when designing workplaces and allocating space.
The following international model creates four different profiles for office employees and suggests a recommended work space for each profile.
- Leadership employee
- Fixed employee
- Flexible employee
- Free address employee
In all circumstances it is important to design for the functional needs of the employee.
Generally, carpet is preferred in office areas to provide a comfortable walking surface and to reduce noise, reflected light from polished floor surfaces and the risk of slips and falls. Wool-mix carpets reduce the build-up of static electricity which can give a mild electric shock. Carpets should be properly laid without loose edges or ripples and should be well maintained. Where there are tasks requiring pushing and pulling wheeled equipment, carpet should be low profile to prevent high-force manual handling.
Walkways should provide safe entry and exit at all times. The use of walkways for temporary storage can introduce tripping or falling hazards and block emergency exits. Walkways near office workstations can be a source of noise and distraction for staff and should be bordered by sound-absorbing panelling to help reduce noise.
Partitions divide workstations and provide visual and sound privacy. They can also:
- reduce unwanted distractions
- provide a background visual surface for computer screens
- reduce contrasting light intensities
- help direct a person's line of sight towards an external window for relief of visual fatigue
- control external and reflected light
Partitioning can cast shadows and reduce light if not appropriately designed or installed.
Storage facilities such as filing cabinets, lockers and shelves often sit on the border of a walkway. When choosing the location of this equipment it is important to consider what other activities occur in the area. For example, a filing cabinet requires approximately 1.2m of space in front of it so someone can access a fully opened bottom drawer. If the drawer projects into a frequently used walkway it becomes an obstruction and creates a hazard.
Function of the space
The size and layout of a work area should accommodate the equipment, the needs of the users and allow for additional traffic and general activity.
Eating and relaxation facilities
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees. In line with this requirement, employers should provide access to a clean area for meal and drink breaks and to allow employees to take rest breaks away from their work desks. Other eating and relaxation amenities should include clean drinking water, hot water, handwashing facilities, a sink and toilets. Worksafe's Compliance Code: Workplace Amenities and Work Environment can help employers provide appropriate workplace amenities and facilities for their employees.
Office design and layout checklist
Check the design of the office is suitable for the functions and tasks required, including:
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 health and safety representatives (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. A link to the page appears in Related information.
- AS 1668.2-2012: The use of ventilation and air conditioning in buildings
The risk management approach to health and safety
Identifying hazards in the office
Developing a health and safety policy
Physical factors in office work
Office work and mental health
Thermal comfort and air quality in offices
Office workstation design
Choosing and using office chairs
Desks, workstations and workbenches
Health and safety with keyboards, the mouse and other pointing devices
Telephones and mobile phones
Different types of office work
Using office equipment safely
Storage and moving systems
Working with computers
General office health and safety
Exercises for office employees
Using copiers, printers and similar equipment
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004External link
Legislation Victoria: Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017External link
Designing safer buildings and structures
Compliance code: Workplace amenities and work environment
Getting help to improve health and safety
Safe Work AustraliaExternal link