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Many people would assume that working in an office environment would not expose workers to substances that would be deemed hazardous, however there are many products that can be found in a typical office environment that could pose a risk to health. 

Toner cartridges for Laser and Inkjet printers contain chemicals and produce dust which can be potentially hazardous. While sealed they pose little or no risk however when the cartridges are replaced dust can be released into the atmosphere and onto surfaces where it may come into contact with skin. Gloves can be utilised to avoid contact with the skin when changing the cartridges or a suitable skin cleanser provided. Spillages should be cleaned up carefully and thoroughly. Empty cartridges should be disposed of carefully in a sealed bag to avoid the risk of contamination after disposal. 

Photocopiers can also pose a risk of breathing in emissions and should be situated in an area with good ventilation.  Solvents used for cleaning print heads coming into contact with skin pose a risk, protective gloves should be used and a lidded bin should be used for disposal to avoid further risk of contact. Care must be taken when preparing a risk assessment for all areas where printers and photocopiers are used taking into account the safe handling and disposal of cartridges, consider whether gloves, eye protection or face masks are needed. 

Paper shredders and the disposal of shredded documentation can also be responsible for dust in the atmosphere, how and where the shredded documents are disposed of, the location of the shredder and the ventilation need to be considered.  Well ventilated work areas can reduce the risk of poor indoor air quality which can cause sore throats and irritation in the eyes and nose, this can affect anyone. Keeping areas tidy and dust free also helps to reduce the number of dust particles in the atmosphere. 

Kitchens in offices often contain various cleaning chemicals. These can be liquids, sprays or powders and you should ensure that you obtain the COSHH data sheet for any chemical substance found and assess the risk they pose. Then you are able to establish control measures to reduce or eliminate the hazard. You will also need to decide on any personal protective equipment that may be needed.

Other areas that need to be assessed are the toilets and any store rooms or cupboards. Look carefully at what substances are there and the data sheets that go with them. You need to ensure that accidental exposure to them is avoided and decide on what personal protective equipment is needed when handling them. 

This is not an exhaustive list, you need to have a close look at all of the operations that take place in the office, are there items stored in drawers or on desks such as glue or corrective fluid? Also consider items that employees may bring into the office, for example cosmetic products or medication, it isn’t uncommon for employees to go out to the shops in their lunch hour, would they bring in potentially hazardous chemicals such as household bleach or other cleaning items? if they do where would these be stored until the end of the day? These are all things that you need to consider when completing your risk assessment.