A range of hazards and risks
From filing cabinets and shelves to lockers and trolleys, storage and moving systems can present a range of hazards and risks to employees. Consider the following information when assessing hazards and risks from office shelving and storage systems and when implementing risk controls.
Users need to have clear access to shelving systems and the items stored on them. Achieving the necessary level of access will sometimes require a redesign or additional equipment. For example, large shelving systems often have a top level of shelving that is above head height or shelves may be too deep, requiring staff to bend and reach in. Redesigning shelving and relocating items between knuckle and shoulder height should be considered. If this is not practicable, consider the following controls:
- a safe means of climbing up to the required level
- an intermediate support point to enable lifting or lowering in stages as users step to higher levels
Image: Controlling risk of storage at height.
Climbing shelves to access higher shelves is an unsafe practice and a risk that requires control. Options for control of this risk may include providing small platforms on rollers, as often found in libraries, small sets of stepladders, platform ladders and rolling ladders. Steps should be stable and platforms and handrails are required where the work includes access to high storage.
If employees have to climb above 2m, employers must comply with the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) Part 3.3. Even if the risk of a fall is below 2m an employer still has an obligation to manage the risk, so far as reasonably practicable, and to maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
General principles of storage areas
- Large or heavy items should be stored at easily accessible heights to minimise the demands of handling. Frequently handled items should be placed within easy reach. Items carried on a trolley should remain on the trolley while in storage.
- Smaller, lightweight and infrequently handled items may be stored in the lower or higher areas of a storage system.
- It should be easy to place items into the storage unit and to take them out.
- The storage system should accommodate the size and shape of the item being stored. For example, dividers will secure files stored in shelving and improve access to them. Documents or small publications may be stored in suspension files or folders, making them easier to handle.
As a storage system, the layout of equipment and resources on a desk should be arranged so they are within reach. Their proximity to the user should be prioritised according to the nature or the item and how it is used.
Image: A desktop can be broken into three broad sectors: the optimum reach sector, maximum reach sector and outer reach sector.
The desktop can be broken up into three broad sectors according to the capacity of the seated individual to reach to each sector. Those sectors are:
Optimum reach sector
The optimum reach sector is where the hands operate for most of the time. Equipment is usually brought into and out of this area as different tasks are performed. For example, when a typing task is finished, the keyboard is moved to one side to make room for a writing activity or the chair is moved to a different part of the desk so the hands can function close to the body. Frequently used items, such as the keyboard, mouse or telephone, should be used in the optimum reach sector.
Maximum reach sector
The maximum reach sector involves an area that extends beyond optimum reach where, using the shoulder and arm, the user can reach with comfort. This sector should be where the hands retrieve and deposit equipment and materials on an intermittent basis. Reference manuals are an example of what can be kept in the maximum forward-reach zone, but not in a high-reach zone where excessive force may be required to lift them down.
Outer reach sector
The outer reach sector involves extended reach where bending and even rising from the chair gains extra distance to reach an item. This area is usually only suitable for occasional reaches.
Where possible, layout should be reorganised to bring frequently used objects and nearby objects closer to the user. Alternatively, work can be relocated to another desk or bench for better access. Locating rarely used items out of reach, requiring the user to get up from the chair, may encourage changes of posture.
In/out trays can usually be placed in the maximum reach sector and stacked on top of one another or placed side by side. Placing the trays closer to the operator helps improve posture and movements by limiting the need for extreme reaching.
Mobile drawer units provide greater flexibility in the layout of a workstation to provide adequate space for the user’s legs. Drawers need to be within comfortable reach and easy to use by moving the chair directly in front of them. Under-desk drawers should not be used for the storage of heavy objects.
Some common problems and solutions with the use of filing cabinets include:
Tightly packed files
Accessing tightly packed files may contribute to muscle soreness and holding awkward postures. Clear labelling and periodic review of the contents can help overcome overcrowding. Other means of storage include arch files. Offsite storage can reduce overcrowding.
Accessing lower drawers
Users should use their legs to squat or alternatively adopt a kneeling posture in preference to bending.
Cabinets that are not level
Where a cabinet is not level, the drawers may be difficult to open or close or even remain in an open position when not in use. This can be hazardous. Small packing pieces can help to level the cabinet. Use a spirit level to make sure the filing cabinet is level.
Instability of a cabinet when more than one drawer is open at once can result in the whole cabinet falling onto the user. Prevention measures may involve attaching the filing cabinet to the wall or floor or buying filing cabinets which allow only one drawer to be open at a time.
Computers are another form of storage system within the office and are the main means of generating and manipulating reference information. Their use as a storage base may lead to a reduction in physical storage requirements in offices, as well as improved efficiency in finding, reading and obtaining data. Backing-up of data is an essential component of effective information storage so that in the event of a problem or equipment failure, the information is not lost or corrupted.
More information about computers is available in WorkSafe's guidance, Working with Computers.
Compactus or mobile storage
The compactus is an efficient way to use storage space but there are several issues associated with the use of this equipment.
Opening and closing the compactus
The size and placement of winding mechanisms or handles to open or close a compactus should not present a trapping hazard for hands. Winding mechanisms and handles are often designed to be used by one hand. Placing a second hand on the unit to help exert additional pushing or pulling force can result in the hand being caught in between the units. The compactus should not require force to operate the handle. Proper installation and regular maintenance of the unit should ensure ease of operation. For large sets of frequently used compactuses, electric controls remove the need to exert force to open and shut the compactus.
With a large compactus it may be possible for a person to become trapped between the shelves while it is being operated by others. Also, the raised platform or rails can create a tripping hazard as the individual moves in and out of the units. Consideration needs to be given to the operating and lock-out procedures, adequate lighting, signs and flooring.
Lockers are often used to store valuable equipment or materials. The location of each item in a locker should be decided according to the size and weight of the item and the frequency of its use.
Photocopying and printing paper
Boxes of paper are often stacked on the floor in offices. They should be placed in a dedicated storage area close to the printer or photocopier. The size and weight of boxes may create a risk of injury from manual handling. Many suppliers provide paper in boxes of five or six reams rather than eight to 10 reams. This has reduced the risks from manual handling by reducing the weight and size of boxes so they can be handled closer to the body. Employers should have appropriate strategies to reduce risks from manual handling, for example:
- raising the lower storage height above the ground to minimise bending
- avoiding the handling of full boxes by removing individual reams from the box one at time
- ordering smaller quantities of paper on a more frequent basis so that they can be stored on shelving with clear access
For more information about photocopying, see WorkSafe's guidance, Using copiers, printers and similar equipment.
Using a trolley to handle stored materials
The use of a trolley to transport materials to and from a central storage area may be required to minimise the demands of the task. Using a trolley should not just apply to large or heavy items but also to smaller items such as files.
It is important to choose the right trolley for a task because using the wrong equipment can introduce new risks. When choosing a trolley for the workplace, consider a range of factors, including:
- the environment where employees will use the trolley
- the type of work
- employee characteristics
- load characteristics, such as size, shape, weight, centre of gravity
- frequency of use
- distances to travel
- workplace layout, for example, aisle width, type of flooring, gradient and floor condition
A risk assessment will help identify the factors to consider. The assessment should include:
- the type of floor surface and what size and type of wheel is required
- whether there are slopes or ramps that may make the trolley difficult to control in the area it is used
- a maintenance program for the wheels
- whether the trolley should be adjustable to allow for materials to be slid directly from the trolley to a shelf
- how accessible the trolley is to get items into and out of
- whether there are large quantities of material to be shifted, requiring some form of motorised trolley
Consult with employees to find out about problems with the way they do the task and provide them with information about available options.
Items such as photocopy paper can be stored on a trolley close to the photocopier. This minimises storage at ground level and, as the trolley can be used for delivery, double handling is minimised.
A waist-height trolley can be located in the delivery area so couriers can place items directly on the trolley. The trolley can then be used to transport the items to the required area.
WorkSafe's guidance, Choosing and Using Trolleys, can help employers choose trolleys to move loads and help them eliminate or reduce and control risks to employees using trolleys.
Check storage is designed to control risks from slips and trips and manual handling, including:
- shelving and filing have adequate space, are appropriate height and not in walkways
- desks have adequate space
- mobile trolleys provided
Your legal duties
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (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.
Australian/New Zealand Standard
- AS/NZS 4442: 2018 Office desks, office workstations and tables intended to be used as office desks - Mechanical, dimensional and general requirements and test methods.
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 layout and design
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
Working with computers
General office health and safety
Exercises for office employees
Using copiers, printers and similar equipment
Legislation Victoria: Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004External link
Legislation Victoria: Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017External link
Occupational health and safety – your legal duties
Compliance code: Workplace amenities and work environment
Choosing and using trolleys
Hazardous manual handling health and safety guide
Designing safer buildings and structures
[ARCHIVED] Getting help to improve health and safety: A handbook for employers
Getting help to improve health and safety
Safe Work AustraliaExternal link
Standards AustraliaExternal link