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  • 22 October 2014
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Health and safety when moving office

Office relocation can be a hectic time and it often also comes with an increased risk of workplace accident and injury because of the activities outside the norm of usual day-to-day office operations. As a result, it’s important to be organised and ensure that you have carefully considered any potential health and safety issues that could occur during the moving process.

Staff involvement in the move

Ideally, the move should be carried out by removal professionals on a day where staff aren’t present, over the weekend for example – this would mostly eliminate having to assess the risk for staff members in the moving process.

It can be tempting to get the assistance of your employees to help with the move, especially if you come from a SME without a huge amount of equipment / furniture to move. However, all it takes is for one small incident to occur and that could amount a serious injury that your company could be liable for.

For instance, roughly 10% of major injuries are related to manual handling and a large percentage of the population (1.1 million) suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, which are easily aggravated by manual handling. So while it may not seem like a big deal to have employees help move a few desks or a couple of boxes, it could be more detrimental than you think.

Moving Risk Assessment and guidelines

If you do decide that you will include your staff in the moving process, in whatever capacity, then it’s important to perform a risk assessment and try to control for or eliminate these risks as much as is reasonably possible. You should also provide a clear guide to your employees of safety protocols. Even though some of them may seem relatively basic, it never hurts to have a reminder and increased awareness will lessen the likelihood of liability if an accident were to occur during the move.

When trying to identify risks or hazards of the moving process, you might want to start by considering the following:

  • What do the various tasks involved in moving office require? Take into account the actions such as heavy lifting and manoeuvring the furniture / boxes through small spaces or up stairways. Could such tasks be made safer if you hired equipment?
  •  Also think about the individuals undertaking these tasks, do they have any health problems which may be relevant? Do any of the tasks needed for the move require any specialist knowledge or training? 
  • Consider, especially when it comes to moving large or heavy items, who will move these, and if any items may be difficult to move. For instance, if a piece of furniture is awkwardly shaped and may need to be deconstructed in order to fit through a doorway. With trickier, large or heavyweight items, it might be worth hiring professionals to move them and then getting staff to help with the easier, less accident-potential tasks and items. 
  • It’s also worth assessing the environment, both the office you’re moving from and to. Take the time to look round your new location and consider it in terms of the move - you are likely to be a lot less familiar with that environment than your current office space. Think about transporting the items into the new location – will it be easy to get them into the building and up to the appropriate floor? Are there any fire exits or walkways that you might risk obstructing in the move? Trips and falls are as much of a risk as injury due to manual labour. Do any of the surfaces or flooring look slippery or unstable?

It’s important to try and anticipate any hazards and create procedures that will help reduce the risk of incidents occurring. For instance, the University of Surrey have created a detailed set of guidelines for when individuals move offices, which you can see here. The instructions are relatively simple, such as:

“Ensure that everyone involved in the move understands the procedure in the unlikely event of an accident or incident.”

But it is this kind of practically, planning and instruction that helps to reduce both accidents and liability, especially when the move involves individuals whose job does not generally include manual labour.

Choosing a qualified removal company

If you do choose to have professionals help you move, it’s important to look around at different removal companies and ensure you pick the right one. This is definitely the safest option, but you still want to make sure the professionals you hire are insured and licensed for this kind of work; it also might be worth checking that if anything gets damaged in the move, will it will be covered.

There are various certifications you can look for that will help you discern the quality of a removal company. For instance, an ISO 9001 certification is an internationally recognised standard for quality management and demonstrates a professional approach as verified by an outside source.

Ensuring the new office meets health and safety regulations

When selecting your new office, there were probably a range of considerations. But something you may not have factored in before signing the lease was whether it met health and safety regulations. Although any major risks are likely to be relatively obvious, there may be some smaller health and safety concerns that may not have initially sprung to mind.

Legally as an employer, you are obligated to ensure that the workspace you provide your employees meets a long list of requirements, which you can view in full here. I will list a few that you may have forgotten to consider. As an employer, you must provide:

- Window cleaning safety in the office: make sure all windows and skylights are designed and constructed so that they may be cleaned safely. 

- Outside lighting: well-lit outside areas – for pedestrians and to help with work activities such as loading / unloading at night. 

- Temperature control in the office: local heating or cooling where a comfortable temperature cannot be maintained throughout each workroom (e.g. hot and cold processes). 

- Ventilation in the office: good ventilation – a sufficient supply of fresh, clean air drawn from outside or a ventilation system. 

Overall, there are a lot of factors to be taken into account to ensure safe office relocation. However, taking the time to assess risks and address practical concerns involved in an office move can save a lot of hassle in the long run.