Employers have a duty to make sure that the health and safety of their workers is protected while in the work place. This is enshrined in various regulations starting with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. This includes health and safety in an office environment, and includes the choice of office furniture such as computer desks and metal, plastic or wooden office chairs.
A number of British Standards relate to office furniture, and it is important to ensure that all office furniture complies with these standards in order to ensure that the health and safety of employees is properly cared for. There are a range of ergonomic standards to be considered in order to provide proper postural care to employees seated in office chairs. There are also standards for size of office chairs and office desks, layout of workstations, and performance of materials.
There are also a number of quality standards relating to office furniture. These cover a range of aspects of office furniture materials and constructions. Some of the factors covered are loadbearing capacity for office chairs, fire resistance, and upholstery quality.
Complying with these standards is usually as simple as ensuring you buy items that have been specifically manufactured for use as office furniture. In order to comply with regulations and ensure that all items are fit for purpose, these should be manufactured to meet at least the minimum standards required by law. However, it is often best to buy good-quality items from a reputable supplier. These are likely to be a little more expensive, but they will probably exceed the minimum standards and provide better care for the health and safety of employees as well as offering a longer lifespan.
Office chairs are probably the items of office furniture that need the most consideration from a health and safety point of view. Employees who have to spend some or all of their time sitting down – which is almost universally true in an office environment – are entitled to office chairs that meet certain standards of comfort and practicality.
This is because sitting for long periods can cause a range of problems if adequate precautions are not taken, and most of these precautions relate to seating choice. Among the problems that can result from extended periods of sitting down are aches in the back, neck or shoulders, compression of the spine and straining of muscles and ligaments.
In order to avert these problems, employees are entitled to office chairs that conform to the ergonomic specifications mentioned above as well as offering a number of specific features aimed at providing comfort and a healthy posture. The key features to consider are adjustable height and back rests. However, wheels and swivelling are also frequently important, especially when a lot of mobility or a large workstation is involved.
Of course, these regulations do not necessarily apply to anybody who will sit down at any point in their working day. Rather, they are aimed at those who will spend a prolonged period sitting down during their working day. For legal purposes, this is defined as those who will spend two hours in total during their working day in a seated position, or one hour in a single, continuous stretch.
Office desks and workstations are not so much of a consideration when choosing office furniture as chairs, but there are still some important things to consider. For example, there are regulations concerning the minimum dimensions of office desks. There are also regulations and requirements relating to the layout of office desks and workstations, particularly computer desks where a visual display is involved as this will affect seating positions.
As well as meeting the minimum dimensions required by law, an office desk must also be large enough to be laid out in an appropriate way that will not present a risk either through crowding or inappropriate sitting positions. For example, computer desks may need to be larger if a multi-display setup is required. Computer desks will also have to either be large enough to contain the main body of the computer, or include a facility to house it beneath the main desk without interfering with seating or presenting a tripping hazard.
Many of the regulations surrounding office desks relate to these issues of layout, particularly when visual displays are involved as in the case of computer desks. As such, it is generally a good idea to choose an office desk that has a good-sized surface and offers plenty of storage space. This will reduce the issue to one of common sense, and make it easy to find a suitable layout with plenty of options available for arranging computers, screens and other items.