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Published Dec 1, 2022

Deck the halls...safely

On the 1st day of Christmas Cedrec gave to me, some tips for office safety.

As the festivities get underway in homes and workplaces across the UK and Ireland, it's difficult to imagine that something as simple and cheerful as decorating the office could be a cause for concern for employees. Risk is everywhere though, no matter how trivial the task seems.

So, to help give your health and safety officer a happy Christmas, and more importantly to keep yourself and others safe, we've written a quick guide about things you can do (or not do) when decorating the workplace.

In any case, remember that employers have a general obligation under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, and to provide safe working environments. Employees also have a duty to take care of themselves and others - so decorate your own workstations bearing that in mind and, if you have any concerns about safety in the workplace, make sure you report them.

Height

Working at height is a particular concern when decorating the office. It doesn't have to be any great height either before the legislation applies. In:

  • England, Scotland and Wales, under the Work at Height Regulations SI 2005/735;
  • Northern Ireland, under the Work at Height Regulations SI 2005/279;
  • Ireland, under Part 4 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations SI 299/2007,

any work, in any place could be considered as work at height if an employee could fall a distance that could cause personal injury if specific measures are not in place. This includes any work at or below ground level!

So, when using step stools and ladders to put decorations up, it is worth considering what risks it could involve. Consider:

  • whether your risk assessment covers the activity. The legislation listed above for the UK and Ireland requires any work at height to be properly planned and appropriately risk assessed;
  • whether employees have been trained to carry out the activity safely (yes, even to use ladders safely. More about this below);
  • your surroundings when working at height;
  • whether the surface level is even and there is appropriate grip on whatever equipment you're using;
  • the equipment itself - is it maintained and is it safe to use?

Ladder safety

It is best if everyone avoids standing on desks or desk chairs to hang up decorations. Whether they look safe or not, they're just not designed for that use so you never know what could happen.

If you are using ladders, it is worth considering the Ladder Association's Guidance Documents on:

In general, you should

  • begin by checking the ladder, including the stiles, feet and rungs, before you use it. If anything doesn't look right, don't use the ladder and report the defect;
  • follow simple procedures in the guidance in order to use the ladder safely;
  • consider the space you're using the ladders in.

Trip hazards

If you're putting up a lit Christmas tree, or if employees are allowed to put lights around their desk space, you could end up creating a trip hazard due to cables. A trip hazard from a cable powering Christmas lights is easily eliminated and avoided - simply consider the placement of the tree and lights. Make sure they're put in appropriate places, close to sockets if possible, in order to prevent cables trailing across the floor.

Have a look at INDG 255 - Preventing slips and trips at work, for further advice.

Electrics

On the topic of lights, consider how you're powering them:

  • if they have to be plugged in, try and avoid using multiple power extensions;
  • plug them directly into a socket if possible
  • if you use a single extension lead, check it for damage first and make sure you don't overload it;
  • if cables are coiled, unravel them as much as possible to avoid the electrics from overheating (making sure the uncoiled cables don't then present a trip hazard!).

Fire

They might look pretty, but Christmas trees and decorations can be a significant fire concern. Remember to:

  • keep any real Christmas trees well watered;
  • make sure you don't block any fire escape routes, signs or exits with trees or suspended decorations;
  • ensure trees and paper decorations are kept away from ignition or heat sources;
  • carry out a visual check of the wiring to make sure there is no wear and tear and that the wires are not bare at any point. Also, use the correct fuses;
  • switch to LEDs! They use less energy and don't give off as much heat;
  • turn off lights at the end of the day.

Decorating outdoors

If you're being extra festive and decorating outside the office too, there are a few additional measures you can take:

  • be aware of adverse weather conditions, and how they can present risks;
  • if it's wet and windy, make sure someone is holding ladders whenever they are being used, or else consider putting the decorations up on another day during better weather;
  • use any PPE that's necessary, even if it's just a coat and gloves!

Old buildings

If your office is an old building, and you're pinning Christmas decorations to walls or ceilings, just double check if there is potential for asbestos to be present. That's not something you want to disturb!

Be safe!

Taking the really simple and quick actions above can make all the difference to employee safety at Christmas time.

In any case, just remember to stay safe and have a great Christmas and New Year.