In theory... Health and safety

Next time you tackle a paper jam in the photocopier, pause for thought. Have you run a proper risk assessment? And how about that cup of tea you were about to make? Have you made sure the mug isn't cracked? Has the electric kettle passed all its safety tests? Is the milk well within its use-by date? Do you know how to carry the steaming cup safely back to your desk?

Health and safety isn't just for the building site. And it doesn't stop at correct lifting procedures or the use of beard snoods. The office can be a minefield of dangerous traps, and it's your job as the manager to make sure nobody falls into one. Health and safety law covers waste, lighting, stress, bullying, passive smoking, workstation designs and rest breaks. The list goes on and on.

It's not surprising, therefore, that most of us have a sceptical view of all things health and safety, especially when the worst injury you can suffer at your desk is a paper cut. Yes, it's painful, but as a grown adult you can be trusted to look after yourself and just get on with it. The Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 was designed to make employers take the safety of their workers more seriously, which is obviously a good thing. But for most deskbound managers looking after deskbound workers, the resultant risk-averse approach to life in the office is at best a laughing matter. At worst, it's a headache of forms and bureaucracy.

Wrapping your colleagues in cotton wool is just not feasible in a busy charity environment (they'd look silly). But protecting them from harm is your legal responsibility, so a practical balance must be struck. Carry out the proper risk assessments, tell your staff what they can and cannot do, take any injuries seriously, but allow them to cycle to work, cross the road and make cups of coffee. Take it as read that they know how to safely wipe their noses and sit in chairs without giving themselves back injuries. Life's too short.

- Emma De Vita is a senior section editor on Management Today.


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