By Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford with assistance from Sarah Toussaint
On two occasions now in the past few years I have been sitting in a meeting room with client prospects (mainly senior or corporate EHS managers around the world), and the fire alarm has sounded. On the first occasion, my hosts and I went to exit the nearest marked fire exit, only to find it was padlocked shut, from the outside. Luckily it was only a drill. On the second occasion, our meeting kept on going; the alarm (still ringing in our ears) dismissed by my hosts as “just testing the alarms” and we would not have to move. After 10 minutes of this, there was a realization that actually, maybe, this wasn’t a test, or a drill. It was neither. We were lucky again that the fire was in another part of the office block.
I should point out that both the aforementioned companies did become clients!
I have heard several similar stories from contacts around the world; the rope ladder fire escape on the 5th floor of an office block in Cairo, that only reached down to the 2nd floor, being one such good example.
It seems logical that offices (and to a certain extent retail, service centers, datacenters and warehouses) are often seen as “low-risk” type operations compared to industrial/manufacturing sites. Therefore it is understandable that companies tend to focus their time and budgets on their greatest risks. However, be careful not to forget about your “low-risk” sites. We have seen growing evidence of enforcement cases (in the UK and US particularly) relating to such locations. The numbers of ergonomics-related injuries (often associated with desk work) continue to be high and in our experience the rates of non-compliance with legal requirements can be just as high as "higher-risk" operations.
In the last few years Enhesa carried out hundreds of EHS compliance audits at office and warehouse facilities in more than 30 countries around the world. You may be surprised to hear that on average we audited against 370 applicable legal requirements per country. Although this is typically around 50% less than the requirements faced by industrial manufacturing sites, it is still a significant amount of EHS legal obligations that your “low risk” sites generally have to contend with. Of equal note is the fact that we found an average of 12% non-compliances against these requirements. Most of these non-compliances tend to be in relation to health and safety management roles, fire safety and emergency evacuation, risk assessments and ergonomics issues. Perhaps most interesting of all, this is about the same percentage that we find in manufacturing facilities. So there may indeed be somewhat fewer requirements to meet, and perceptions of risk are lower, in our experience this does not mean that office sites are any more compliant than industrial sites. In fact, the absence of trained personnel for health and safety management can mean the opposite is true.
In our experience there are a whole variety of factors at play as to why companies struggle to meet their compliance obligations: Who is responsible (landlord or tenant)? What are the specific local requirements? Unusual local requirements can also catch you off guard. For example, In India businesses must keep equipment on site for the treatment of persons with electrical shock, such as wooden sticks to remove the person from the source of the shock.
The moral of the story is clear. Offices are as much a part of your EHS remit as your factories.