It’s important to get the balance right in December. We want people to have fun, to get in the mood for Christmas, and to enjoy coming to work. But we don’t want people to inadvertently create hazards for themselves or their colleagues. The HSE are clear on this: there is no ban on Christmas decorations in the workplace.
A little bit of thought about how to manage the process will pay dividends – we don’t need complicated risk assessments, but perhaps it’s worth creating a template risk assessment to pass around each department so they can decide on the best approach.
Here are a few of the hazards to consider, with some suggested control measures.
If staff are allowed to bring in their own lights, people might buy cheap lights from a market stall or they might have stored the lights in a damp loft or a cupboard next to the cat basket for a year. Damaged lights could result in electrocution for an individual, or an electrical fire causing wide-scale damage. One approach is simply to ban staff bringing in their own lights, but if you do this, be prepared to provide some lights for them, or morale could drop.
You could allow staff to bring in lights, provided they meet a certain standard – for example, newer low heat LED lights only, not Granny’s old glass bulbs. A simple control implemented by one of my clients has been to run a surgery in the canteen at lunch time during “light-up” week – all lights must be made available for a competent person to check that they are CE marked and that there is no damage to any of the cables . Christmas lights do not need PAT testing every year . Approved lights are marked up, and if they’re not approved they are not allowed up, and this is checked as part of other regular housekeeping walkabouts.
In addition, the evening security guard has an extra job during December – checking that all the lights are switched off and unplugged at night. RoSPA have advice on Christmas light safety if you want to know more.
Ever been tempted to stand on a chair, desk or workbench to hang a Christmas tree decoration? That’s how people fall and spend Christmas in plaster (especially if they try this after a lunchtime Christmas drink). One option is to make a ladder available, but ladders should only be used in the workplace by people who have had at least some basic training, so a more effective option might be to offer a decoration hanging service where decorations are required above head height. This also gives you more control over where decorations go, and how they are attached. Think about pins spiking cables or services within the walls, or damaging asbestos-containing materials.
Decorations should be away from heat and ignition sources, and mustn’t create an obstacle (particularly near fire exits) or a trip hazard. And if you use mistletoe, remember the falling berries can make a mushy slip hazard on the floor. Some work environments might have other hazards lurking – for example, in a warehouse, can you ensure that decorations won’t get snagged when forklift truck forks are at their highest? Perhaps limit the decorations to the office and rest areas.
Mistletoe, Christmas trees, wreaths of fresh greenery. Christmas makes us want to bring lots of nature into the office. Watch out though – real Christmas trees contain pine resin and oil, and usually moulds, which for sensitive people can create respiratory problems, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, or skin problems for those who handle them. Find out if any staff are particularly sensitive, and don’t put the tree anywhere near their normal place of work.
And don’t think that an artificial tree will automatically overcome the problem – if stored since last year these may still have mould growing on them, and will certainly be dusty and could contain house mites, which could bring on asthma attacks in susceptible people. If you have an artificial tree, make sure it is fire retardant and clean it before you bring it into the work place. You can hose it down if you have space and the time to get it dry, or at least vacuum it thoroughly to remove the dust.
You might decide to avoid these issues by bringing in contractors. They can provide the decorations, the staff and the work at height equipment, and transform your workplace from serious grey space to festive fun over the weekend when the office is empty. That’s great, but you still have the responsibility to check that their risk assessments and method statements (RAMS) explain how they intend to control the risk from the electrical, work at height and respiratory hazards discussed, and that all their contractor documentation is up to date. If you are already an Effective Software customer, you’ll know how easily that can be managed. If you’re not, perhaps it’s time to put a request in to your workplace Santa?