June was National Safety Month in the US, sparking a number of surveys and initiatives from the business community about health and wellness in the workplace. It is an area that office supplies resellers have placed a lot of focus on in recent years, as the move to provide all solutions for the office has gained more and more momentum.
Despite growing attention to employee safety, though, there is still significant potential in terms of sales and services for the office supplies community. The largest OP reseller of them all, Staples, published its second annual Business Safety Survey at the end of May, showing that there is still plenty of room for improvement in terms of companies’ preparedness for natural disasters and office accidents.
And wherever there is room for improvement in the workplace, progressive OP firms should be looking to offer an answer.
The ironically named Bob Risk, who is Senior Strategic Safety, Health and Wellness Manager for Staples, says that more of his company’s commercial customers are realising that they must “be in posession and control of their emergency preparedness/response products to really be prepared”.
“You cannot rely on ordering or deliveries after the [event] – disasters affect suppliers and logistics as much as the preparing company,” he explains. “It’s always easier to prepare for an emergency than to explain why you didn’t.”
Risk’s focus on disaster preparedness comes after the Staples study found that natural disasters are the top safety concern among office employees, yet 60% of businesses said recent disasters in the US, including Hurricane Sandy, haven’t resulted in them reassessing their safety plans.
Less than half of small businesses said they are prepared for severe emergencies or that safety plans are communicated regularly. Meanwhile, in emergency situations just under a quarter of companies apparently only communicate what to expect during an emergency “at the last minute”.
Nevertheless, health and wellbeing preparedness is higher on the corporate agenda than it was 20 years – even ten years – ago so why might this be?
“More disasters,” exclaims Staples’ Risk. “[There are] more major storms, tornados, terrorism and pandemics – and more global news coverage of them.”
As a result, Staples has issued businesses with the following safety and preparation tips to maintain a safe working environment; such advice can easily be heeded by smaller independent OP firms looking to cater for their individual customers’ requirements too:
- Stock up on emergency items: in addition to an emergency evacuation plan, businesses should have enough food, water, flashlights and blankets to help sustain employees for up to three days. Items like masks and crank-powered radios can further help businesses to be ready for any emergency
- Help prevent accidents: the second foremost safety concern among survey respondents was trips, slips and falls. Prevent accidents by installing floor matting and placing hazard signs where appropriate.
Knowing your ergonomics
The Staples survey also brought up another issue of workplace health and wellbeing: ergonomics. One third of respondents to the reseller’s survey said they experience pain or discomfort at their workstation and a quarter reported “numbness” or “tingling”, which prompted Staples to highlight the importance of providing specialist ergonomic equipment to help reduce injuries in the office.
Many OP resellers have actively been selling ergonomic ranges for a number of years now, partly influenced by published data linking unsuitable furniture and other equipment to some workplace ailments. Indeed, OPI is aware of at least one UK dealer that provides each customer with an ergonomics test prior to selling furniture, ensuring they are purchasing equipment tailored to their working environment.
Such initiatives are important. In the UK, statistics from the Health and Safety Executive show that almost 50% of all workplace absence is caused by musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which could be costing many lost man hours.
Karen Pengelly, Marketing Manager at Posturite, a company that designs, manufactures and distributes ergonomic office equipment, says: “The simple fact that so much absence is caused by musculoskeletal issues makes the problem important to businesses – it is having a knock-on effect on their bottom lines and their productivity levels.
“Added to this is the fact that the word ergonomic gets applied to a lot of products – many people misunderstand the principles and impact that ergonomics have in the workplace and everyday life.”
Offering sales advice to resellers, Pengelly suggests that it is vital to convey the MSD message and highlight how these disorders can be prevented or resolved with the correct products.
And with the continued roll-out of service-led sales in the OP vertical, it is another category where this approach could be employed.
“Perhaps resellers could offer display screen equipment or workstation assessments – there are numerous providers of assessments out there to work with in delivering these services,” Pengelly notes.
“They would be adding huge value to their services with no stock-holding implications at all. It’s not necessarily about keeping a heavy stock level of these products – just a few demonstration models to show the possibilities.”
On the go
UK businesses need to be aware that under legislation such as the Health & Safety at Work Act they are still obliged to cater for the needs of employees who work from home. British companies must also adhere to regulations such as the Display Screen Equipment Regulations 1992, so the shift to greater numbers of SOHO workers has given businesses another issue to consider in terms of staff welfare.
“Just because staff are mobile working or home workers, it does not reduce employers’ obligations – they still need to cater for these staff and their workstations,” warns Pengelly. “Being knowledgeable and aware [of the latest regulations] will reassure any customer.”
According to Staples’ Risk, although some companies are already doing so, US firms need to develop ways to try to ensure their employees are safe and comfortable when working at off-site locations.
He says: “Many companies are supplying employees with preparedness products and kits at their homes and/or remote offices.
“Employers are also realising that the wellbeing of an employee’s family is directly related to that employee’s productivity. They are taking steps to prepare these employees to both anticipate and respond/react to the aftermath of potential disasters.
“This preparedness includes items from food and water to house repair products.”
It seems that when it comes to health and wellbeing in the office there are plenty of ways for OP resellers to reach their commercial customers, potentially boosting sales in the process or – at the very least – strengthening business relationships.