Practicality needs to be an important factor in office design and furnishings.
“We want something cool and funky looking,” is the client brief. “We’re thinking beanbags and lounge chairs for meeting rooms; we want it to be fun and comfortable.”
And while these design choices might be great for looking cool and creating an atmosphere, as a design and construction professional, I often need to make clients stop and think about the safety implications of design and furniture choices.
Right now, you might well be wondering what’s so dangerous about a few beanbags and arm chairs. Well, nothing for short bursts of time, but the problem in a work environment is that people tend to start using them in ways that aren’t ideal. A beanbag is great for relaxing and watching a movie in, or even just having a quick chat. But, what about using a laptop on a beanbag? This is when you start to get problems with poor posture and the risk of strains and injuries.
As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide a safe work environment. In addition to providing suitable work equipment – like desks at the correct height, adjustable chairs and screen holders – you need to encourage staff to use that equipment correctly. Even if your workplace prides itself on being creative and relaxed, that’s not a reason to stop being vigilant about safe work practices. If staff have started using areas designed for relaxation and informal meetings as pseudo-desks, it is important to provide information about the health risks and take steps to discourage this practice.
In addition to furniture, other elements of workplace design to consider are:
Is light at an optimal level for the type of work being performed? Can light be adjusted to suit individual preferences, the time of day, sources of natural light, and different tasks? Considering any glare and impact of light reflecting off surfaces is also an important consideration that an interior design professional can help you to assess. Flickering lights can also be a source of annoyance and discomfort in the workplace.
It’s important that pathways are kept clear at all times. If you have moveable furniture, make sure that everyone is aware of the need to keep clear access available at all times. This is also important in complying with regulations relating to disabled access and exit during emergencies.
Make sure that the floor surface isn’t slippery. For example, will your polished concrete floor become slippery on a wet day when staff come in with dripping umbrellas? If you are using mats and rugs, are you using a non-slip underlay to prevent them becoming a slip or trip hazard?
Are electrical cables contained in suitable conduits, or exposed? If employees are working from laptops in alternative work spaces (like those beanbags in breakout rooms), will the power cable cause a potential trip hazard if it is in use?
Noise and acoustics
Another important consideration is the noise absorbing properties of any furnishings. A sleek and minimalist office space with polished floors and no internal walls can look amazing, but can also be intolerably noisy. Consulting with a design professional can help you to create a particular aesthetic while minimising aural discomfort for your employees.
Have you had to adjust your aesthetic preferences for safety concerns? How were you able to achieve a certain look while meeting best-practice guidelines for workplace health and safety? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.