Office layout and design

This guidance may help employers and designers create office spaces that help keep employees healthy, safe and productive.

Flexible design

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.

Floor space

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.

In all circumstances it is important to design for the functional needs of the employee.

Floor surfaces

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

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

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

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.

          Further information

          Australian Standard

          • AS 1668.2-2012: The use of ventilation and air conditioning in buildings