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22 Sep, 2021/ by National Accident Helpline /Campaigns

How to avoid an increase in injuries when we return to the office

Are offices ready for the return to work?

With the UK expected to move away from home working and return to the office in greater numbers during the Autumn months, we're asking employers to ensure workspaces are safe and ready.

Figures from Transport for London showed the first Monday of September saw a 22% increase in tube journeys and a 71% jump in bus passengers in London between 8am and 9am compared to the previous Tuesday (the comparison day due to August bank holiday).

This sharp increase in commuters in the capital precedes expectations that autumn will see workers across the country return to the office in numbers preceding the start of the pandemic in March last year.

While this is a welcome sign of the country returning to normality, we're calling on employers to make sure workspaces are safe and ready to welcome staff. However, at the same time we're also highlighting some of the ways that employees can stay safe and ensure they avoid common office injuries.

Effect of lockdown on injuries

We saw a 67% decrease in the number of enquiries relating to injuries as a fault of an occupier (such as those sustained in shops and restaurants) and a 65% decrease in enquiries about injuries sustained in the workplace between April 2019 and April 2020.

It is important we all take precaution when returning to work, as the number of injuries sustained while in public and workplaces directly correlate to COVID restrictions. In fact, we saw a 15% increase in enquiries that coincided with the easing of lockdowns.

While this would be expected as we saw the UK's first lockdown empty workplaces and town centres there are lessons that can be taken from this study, especially when viewing figures leading up to and after ‘freedom day' in July.

June and July this year both saw a sharp increase in injuries, with a 38% increase in enquiries relating to injuries sustained in places like shops and restaurants and a 15% increase in enquiries relating to injuries sustained in the workplace when compared to figures for April and May.

Hazards linked to lockdown

With the number of injuries rising in line with the easing of lockdown restrictions it's crucial that both employers and employees act cautiously as we see a large increase in those returning to the office.

It's especially important for employers to do a full risk assessment of office spaces, checking that there has been no deterioration of workplaces during lockdown.

An enquiry received during the easing of lockdown highlighted the importance of checking offices spaces before inviting employees back, as an employee fell through an office floor that had been rotting away and had become unsafe. Whereas another claimant slipped on a dusty step that hadn't been swept in months.

While these are just a couple of examples, it highlights how offices may have become unsafe during lockdown without regular monitoring and maintenance. It also shows the importance of making rigorous checks before employees return to full time office working en masse.

Avoiding pre-lockdown numbers

Without action there's a risk that injuries at work may reach pre-COVID levels, which were 115% higher than current trends.

It's crucial that returning office workers are aware of potential trip or slip hazards in the workplace, with these injuries making up 48% of enquiries so far this year.

The shift to home working could have made some employers reluctant to invest in office spaces and make necessary upgrades or refurbishments, which may now put employees at risk as they return to the office.

From loose or torn carpets to rotting floors there are a number of trip hazards that may have materialised during lockdown, all of which should be assessed before staff are welcomed back to the office.Carrying out risk assessments as employees return to work

To ensure that staff can return to the office safely and enjoy the benefits that come from a collaborative atmosphere in an office space there are several steps employers can take:

  • Conduct a full risk assessment of office spaces, ensuring any potential hazards are rectified before staff return full time
  • Ensure staff know where to find safety equipment, in case of spillages
  • Re-issue standard office protocols, such as display screen equipment assessments, in line with return to desks
  • Ensure all employees know manual handling procedures for office equipment, whether this be reams of paper or office furniture that requires moving or adjustment to fit staff back in the office

By following HSE protocols and ensuring that staff are aware of potential hazards when returning to the office employers can ensure that workplaces are safe and suitable for life returning to normal post lockdown.

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