Six Ways To Design A Safer Office

Taking employee safety into consideration can bolster positive attitudes and prevent disaster. Here are six ways to improve safety in an office environment.

By Tonya Dybdahl

Working Americans spend 40-plus hours a week on the job. With so much time spent in the workplace, safety should be a top priority when designing an office space. According to the Happiness in the Workplace study by National Business Furniture and Kelton Global, 92% of employed Americans believe their workspace affects their well-being. Respondents indicated office layout, workspace comfort, and furniture selection are all important factors. A safe office space is key.

Taking employee safety into consideration can bolster positive attitudes and prevent disaster. Removing trip hazards and following fire codes to create a safe office seems like common sense. However, safety hazards can be all too prevalent if special considerations aren’t taken at the start of the design process. Here are a few ways to design a safer office space…

safe office
Image: Getty Images

1. Set Up For Success

Every new build or facility refresh has to start somewhere. During this process, it’s okay to seek professional help. Experienced project managers and space planners know how to set up an office for success. Many facility executives lean on these professionals to address safety and design intricacies.

To avoid poor, unsafe furniture assembly, partner with professional installers. This helps to ensure furniture is securely assembled — everything from cubicle panels to executive desks. Small considerations, such as attaching storage to the wall, are no-brainers for professional installers.

2. When In Doubt, Follow The Rules

Fire codes, building codes, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) aren’t just legal — they’re logical. It’s key to follow safety requirements set by local, state, and national authorities. They outline a clear and concise path to a physical layout and building design that is as safe as possible. While these laws are vast and sprawling, a few are easy to put in place for a safe office environment.

  • Per the ADA, all pathways should be at least 3 feet wide, but main walkways should be 6 inches or wider.
  • Racking, shelving, and all other furniture should be at least 18 inches from the ceiling. If supplies are stored on the top shelf, make sure nothing eclipses the 18 inch mark. This allows sprinkler systems to adequately disperse water in an emergency.
  • To prevent electrical fires, make sure electrical panels and fuse boxes aren’t obstructed by furniture of any kind. Install outlet caps on any outlet blocked by pieces of furniture.

3. Prevent Slips And Trips

Beyond choices between carpet or hardwood, certain flooring considerations can eliminate trip hazards. Make sure transitions and thresholds are as even as possible. As time passes, also ensure that any curling or pulling is immediately fixed. Area rugs, in particular, can warp over time and corners can curl up. Remember, it’s easier and less expensive to replace a rug than it is to lose a valuable employee.

4. Manage Mobility

The fire code’s greatest enemy is mobile furniture. From larger objects, like training tables or charging cabinets, to something as simple as an office chair, it’s easy to leave a rolling object in the middle of important pathways. In an emergency, every second counts. There simply isn’t time to roll away an obstacle when it matters most.

Create regular storage space for transient items. To encourage a safe office environment, train employees to recognize the importance of putting things back when they’re finished. Nesting tables on casters, stackable chairs, and folding tables are great space-savers. More than half (54%) of survey respondents stated an uncomfortable or a cluttered workspace impacts their well-being. Look for ways to expand workspaces, while also keeping pieces out of the way as necessary.

5. Only You Can Prevent Office Fires

Employee safety starts long before a fire breaks out. An informed team is the difference between the best and worst-case scenario. Promoting disaster awareness takes very little time compared to its huge benefit. It’s important to follow appropriate fire codes during the space planning process. Yet, comprehensive design is only half the battle.

While it’s already required to post escape routes throughout the building, take time during employee orientation to go over the best points of egress. Highlight the locations of fire extinguishers and teach employees which extinguishers are best suited for different types of fires. Cover basic fire safety tips as well to ensure everyone is prepared and well-informed.

Mitigate physical damages to important documents by installing appropriate fireproof storage. Specialty gypsum-lined file cabinets and safes are good options. Choose the right combination of features, such as ratings for storing hard drives and digital backups. Be sure to consider the weight of these pieces during the purchasing and installation process too.

6. Make Ergonomic Choices

Some employee injuries take time to manifest, though they could have been prevented by paying attention to healthy, ergonomic furniture choices. Everybody’s needs are different. The right combination of adjustment points, lumbar support, and materials can promote healthy posture. More importantly, it can prevent spine, hip, knee, and neck injuries. Almost half (48%) of respondents claimed the type of desk chair they have is important to their well-being. Choose chairs that are suited to an employee’s stature as well as the floor they’ll occupy. Using the wrong hard floor or carpet casters can result in unexpected tipping and falls.

When sitting becomes stagnant, provide adjustable-height desks or risers. This allows employees to stand or lean on an active perch seat or stool as they work. Nearly one in five respondents believe having flexible desk options, such as stand-up desks, impacts their well-being. Additionally, offering standing workstations throughout the office gives employees the flexibility to work from a fresh location. They can take a standing break without committing to a permanent standing workspace. Keep in mind, preferences do differ by age group. Millennial respondents (21%) care more about having flexible desk options than boomer survey respondents (14%).

safe officeDybdahl is a space planning and design assistant manager for National Business Furniture, based in Milwaukee, WI. Founded in 1975, the company offers quality furniture and service to corporate offices, government facilities, and more.


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