Hidden hazards in the office workplace

Health and Safety



Without regular checks, even a seemingly safe office can hide serious health and safety risks. These hazards can be both inherently dangerous and, in the event of an accident, they can increase the risk that a member of staff gets injured. Regardless of whether an employee seeks to make a work injury compensation claim, if even a single member of staff is injured and unable to work for an extended period, the disruption to a small business can be significant.

In practice, it may be impractical to guard against every imaginable hazard. While accidents can happen even under the most rigorous safety regimes, the one regret that no employer wants to consider after an accident is that they ’could have done more’ to prevent it. If staff or clients share that belief, the damage can be lasting and irreparable.

Part of the reason that office safety is often neglected is that this environment is considered ’safe’, compared to the likes of building sites and warehouses. In fact, office staff are often exposed to risks that would be guarded against in a seemingly more dangerous workplace, with clear guidelines and regular checks.

Wearing your ’safety officer hat’, many office hazards are easy to identify. A typical audit would pick up common hazards such as:

  • Unsuitable personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Absent or inadequate lifting and moving equipment
  • Trailing electrical cables
  • Poorly-stacked boxes
  • Walkways littered with boxes, cables and other trip hazards
  • Unsafe or defective chairs and workstations
  • Fire hazards like chained multi-plug adapters
  • Fire escapes that have been locked or blocked
  • Harmful substances such as cleaning fluids

Without a system of regular audits and access to health and safety resources, however, many other hazards can go unnoticed and unmonitored until they cause harm.

Chris Salmon, work accident claims expert at Quittance Personal Injury, said “Prevention is undoubtedly the best strategy, but an inadequate safety regime can breed complacency.”

“In our experience, even audits conducted by trained and informed staff can miss significant hazards. These dangers then go on to either cause an accident or damage an employee’s health through longer-term exposure.”

Some of the examples below can result in employees sustaining long-term and permanent health conditions. Examples of ’hidden’ hazards include:


Photocopiers and some printers create ozone gas.  Ozone is harmful to the respiratory tract, lungs and eyes.  The effects can be mitigated with an ozone filter which is often built into the machine or installed nearby.  Ozone filters need to be maintained with periodic filter changes but all too often this is overlooked.

Illnesses spread through bacteria and virus traps such as keyboards, doorknobs, coffee makers, etc.

Microbiological tests have revealed that PC keyboards typically have five times more bacteria and viruses than a bathroom toilet seat. Norovirus, E. coli, staphylococcus and coliforms, all of which can lead to serious infection, are common culprits.

Background noise levels

Background noise levels in offices have increased with the ubiquity of open plan. People are usually not conscious of how the noise levels are increasing their baseline stress levels. Sound masking devices can diminish surrounding noises and reduce resulting stress levels.  Despite costing only a few pounds white-noise machines are rarely seen in offices.

Poor air quality

In addition to the risks posed by the toner chemicals and materials used in photocopiers mentioned above, poor ventilation and air quality can cause lasting and permanent harm. Allergies, asthma, fatigue and lower productivity are all associated with inadequately ventilated rooms, caused by the build-up of carbon dioxide, low humidity and ozone given off by densely-packed electrical equipment.

Inadequate workstation assessment

Many employers are unaware of the effect that a badly-arranged workstation can have on a worker’s productivity and long-term health. Even minor adjustments to display monitor distance, keyboard position and chair height can prevent many work-related upper limb disorders (WRULDs) and back pain from developing.

Every small business should take the time to conduct regular health and safety audits. Crucially, businesses also need to regularly review their audit procedure as their workplace changes and evolves to ensure that new hazards are identified, monitored and resolved.

A proactive, informed approach to office safety gives businesses a better chance of catching hidden hazards before they cause an accident or injury in the workplace. This approach could even foster a more responsible office culture, less focused on box-ticking and blind compliance.