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. Both the aforementioned prospects 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 centres, datacentres and warehouses) are often seen as “low-risk” type operations compared to industrial/manufacturing sites. It is therefore understandable that companies tend to focus their time and budgets on their greatest risks. However, be very careful not to take you eye off the “low-risk” ball. 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 for higher-risk operations.
In 2013 Enhesa carried out more than 80 EHS compliance audits at office-based facilities in more than 20 countries around the world. You may be surprised to hear that on average we audited against 255 applicable legal requirements per country. Although this is typically around 40% less than the requirement faced by industrial manufacturing sites, it is still a significant amount of EHS legal obligations your “low risk” sites generally have to contend with. Of equal note is the fact that we found an average of 13% non-compliances against these requirements (in fact, we found an average of 23% non-compliance in Asia compared to Europe at 9% and the America’s at 10%). Most of these non-compliances tend to be in relation to fire safety; risk assessments and ergonomics issues. Perhaps most interesting of all, this is pretty much in line with the percentage that we find in manufacturing facilities. So whereas 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 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 EH&S remit as your factories.
Enhesa will be sponsoring the global risk management track at the IOSH Conference in June. The Conference Track will include a roundtable discussion focussing on the low vs high-risk H&S challenges.