New Year, New Office: Regulations to Know About

2020 might have been a work year unlike any other in distant memory, and it’s no exaggeration to say that businesses big and small have experienced dramatic changes to the way they work. Whether you anticipate having staff return to work in the future or have already begun the year with new office policies, we’ve gathered some key workplace regulations you might want a refresher on. With increased concern about workplace safety, now is as good a time as ever to properly consider how you measure against the legislation.

Air conditioners and the TM44 inspection

Since 2002, by law, if your office uses an air conditioning unit with a capacity exceeding 12kW, you’ll need to have it inspected at a minimum of 5-year intervals. This applies even if you have several smaller air conditioners, if their combined capacity is over 12kW. The TM44 inspection is to ensure that your air conditioner is actually working efficiently, which not only saves business owners money, but also protects the environment.

Fines for noncompliance can be up to £300, so it’s worth checking to see if you’re due an inspection – a government database should have a record of the last inspection in case of older units. Finally, with warmer temperatures just around the corner, it’s simply a good idea to have peace of mind that your employees are not going to be sweltering on site due to an underperforming air conditioner!

Personal protective equipment regulations

If you’re a small business owner, you’ve likely already given some thought to your obligations when it comes to providing staff with PPE to ensure their safety and reduce the risk of transmitting or contracting the Covid-19 virus. The PPE at work regulations act of 1992 outlines your responsibilities. If you oversee a typical office space (i.e. your employees are not facing obvious risk and exposure such as they might in a hospital setting, for example) then it may be sufficient to provide basic PPE, as well as instructions on their correct use.

Given the challenges around Covid, you might need to make allowance for moving desk positions, providing free masks and hand sanitizer, or setting up single lane traffic in potentially crowded spaces such as corridors. It is a requirement that any protective equipment offered should be free of charge for the employee.

Check on your screens, chairs and desks setup

It might not look like it, but prolonged office work can be hard on the body, and as a responsible business owner, it’s up to you to make sure you’re protecting your employee’s health and wellbeing as they work at their desks. It’s a good idea to routinely audit your workspace setups.

First, check that the office chairs are in good condition, and that your employees are sitting correctly and comfortably. Invest in adjustable height tables so that employees don’t incur neck or shoulder strain looking at computer screens, which should also be placed at optimal heights. The Display Screen Equipment law of 1992 outlines some legal specifics, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a few extra steps to make sure your staff are working in safe, ergonomic conditions.

Update your general risk assessment documents

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to creating a healthy, secure and productive office environment, but the priority is always to identify those potential risks to safety and do whatever is necessary to mitigate them. If you haven’t already, draw up a comprehensive risk assessment to guide any health and safety policies in the office.

Even if you have a risk assessment, however, this needs to be regularly updated, since changes to staffing, equipment, or indeed a pandemic, can pose additional challenges that need to be considered. The Management of Health and Safety at Work regulations of 1992 outlines your legal duties as an employer, and concerns the furniture, fittings, safety training and risk exposure of your workplace.

Granted, there are other concerns that might be more relevant for your unique business – such as equality, diversity and disability considerations, building regulations (i.e. things like sanitation and fire safety) and a clear policy for reporting injury or accident at work. Legislature changes often, so even if you have a comprehensive health and safety policy, the new year is still a perfect opportunity to brush up on your duties as an employer. This will not only keep your conscience clear but avoid any nasty surprises or fines down the line, as well as encourage your employees to feel safe and comfortable, which can only have positive effects on their productivity.