How does the law affect office space planning?

The law can quite often be a minefield and there are a number of pieces of legislation, approved codes of practice and building regulations that affect aspects of the design of office space such how many people you can fit in an office and how it is laid out. But which ones as an employer, space planner or designer do we need to know about? In this article and subsequent articles we will explore what the law says about the workplace and what it means in practice.

The Six-Pack

So what does the law say about the workplace?

The law affecting employees’ rights in the workplace has six primary pieces of legislation, often known as the “6 pack”. These are:

  1. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992. This places a duty on the Employer to ensure the safety, health and welfare of their employees. As an employer you must: identify and reduce any risks in your workplace, have implemented health and safety polices, have competent people overseeing health and safety and provide workplace information and training. From a space planning perspective this means having process and procedures in place (and suitably qualified people involved) to ensure that thealth and safety matters are considered and all risks are identified and mitigated where possible when laying out or changing an office and in the purchase of furniture, fittings and equipment.
  2. Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992– this law and its approved code of practice covers many aspects of the provision of facilities for staff and affects the design and layout of workplaces including toilet provision, ventilation, temperature and space per person (see Office Capacity Limitations and Toilet Provision in Offices for further information).
  3. Display Screen Equipment (DSE) Regulations 1992– this law covers the use of display screen equipment by employees and places a duty on the employer to put in place policies and procedures to reduce risks in the use of display screen equipment such as undertaking risk assessments, providing suitable furniture and making reasonable adjustments to the workplace.
  4. Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992– although not so relevant to workplace design this act places a duty on the employer to protect their workforce from risk and injury through manual handling. From a design perspective, this combined with the Construction, Design and Management (CDM) regulations would necessitate office designers to consider how manual handling risks (or even the need for manual handling) can be reduced or eliminated by appropriate workplace design and furniture selection.
  5. Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998– these regulations place a duty on the employer to ensure that any equipment supplied to or used by their workforce is suitable, safe and properly maintained and that relevant information and training is provided. Again one of the main impacts this legislation has on the design of an office would be in the selection of appropriate and safe furniture for the task being performed.
  6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Regulations 1992– the employer must make sure that appropriate personal protective equipment is supplied to staff and there are trained in its use. From a design perspective (although not specifically mentioned in the regulations) places for storage of PPE should be provided in locations that encourage the use of PPE for example providing lockers near to the workplace or on the way out of the office for field staff so that is easy for them to collect their PPE on the way out.

Other Relevant Legislation and Guidance

There are also a number of additional pieces of legislation that impact the design and layout of office space:

  1. Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations)– these regulations are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are considered and where possible designed out during the design and construction of building projects. From a workplace design perspective the Client (usually the owner or occupier of the office) has overall responsibility for the successful management of health and safety in a construction project and must employ suitability qualified and experienced companies or individuals to act as two primary duty holders – the principal design and principal contractor.
  2. Equality Act 2010– the Equality Act supersedes the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (often known as the DDA regulations). It not only maintains and enhances the protection given to disabled people in the workplace but also made it unlawful to discriminate against nine protected characteristics:
    • age
    • disability
    • gender reassignment
    • marriage and civil partnership
    • pregnancy and maternity
    • race
    • religion or belief
    • sex
    • sexual orientation

From an office design perspective the employer must consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace for an employee or job applicant with any one of the protected characteristics. These could include ensuring the workplace can accommodate wheelchair users, ensuring way finding is suitable for blind or partial sighted people and providing “toilets for all” to prevent a transsexual or gender fluid member of staff feeling harassed or victimised. We will explore the law and good practice in the provision of toilet facilities in a future design guide.

The Building Regulations 2010 – The building regulations cover the minimum design standards that must be achieved for a range of different facilities, including offices. They include a set of “approved documents” which stipulate the standards that must be achieved for different aspects of a building. For the workplace the key sections are, amongst others, Part B – Fire SafetyPart G – Sanitation, hot water safety and water efficiency, and Part M volume 2 – Access to and use of buildings other than dwellings.

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