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Overcrowding in the workplace: Two ways it impacts on your employees' health and safety

by , 27 February 2013
Overcrowding in the office means your employees won't have sufficient space to carry out their work effectively without intruding into colleagues' personal space. And this can seriously hamper your company's productivity. Here's why overcrowding is a huge problem for your company and what you can do to overcome it.

South Africa has the highest prison population in Africa, Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndebele told IOL on Monday.

But it's not just prisons that are suffering from overcrowding issues! South African schools and businesses are under similar stress.

Is yours? If it is, overcrowding in the workplace could seriously hamper your employees' productivity. But that's not all, explains Nell Browne in the Health and Safety Advisor, it could be putting your employees at risk too.

Two common problems overcrowding in the workplace causes and how to overcome them

Problem #1: Overcrowding in the workplace puts pressure on office infrastructure and facilities

Office infrastructure and facilities includes everything from bathrooms and desks to air-conditioning and ventilation. And when it comes to overcrowding, it can have an effect on all of this.

Take your air-conditioning or ventilation systems for example. If they can't provide enough fresh, sufficiently oxygenated air to meet the required number of people in the work area, employees doing physically demanding work can be at higher risk for accidents. After all, stale air causes drowsiness and drowsiness can lead to workplace accidents.

What can you do about it? Contact the Department of Labour (DoL) for the details of an approved occupational hygienist, advises Browne. Get them to conduct an air quality survey (according to international guidelines), to determine if the ventilation you've provided is adequate for the area and type of work being done. If not, upgrade your ventilation system.

Problem #2: Overcrowding puts strain on your emergency exits

If there are too many people in your office, your emergency exit routes may not be wide enough to allow the volume of people to evacuate the premises rapidly enough should the need arise.

Solution: Ensure your emergency exit routes comply with the requirements as stipulated in Section TT of the SABS 0400 National Building Regulations.

Don't be fooled! Overcrowding in the workplace is a big health and safety problem

That's not all, overcrowding can also put strain on essential equipment, like office lifts, as well as on office facilities like your toilets. If there are too many people in the office, it can lead to overloading of existing systems. This, in turn, can result in health issues like blocked sewerage pipes as well as safety problems resulting in more accidents in the workplace.

And remember, if your employees have less than 2.25m2 of open floor space, the DoL is likely to deem your workplace as overcrowded and you might need to move to avoid being hit with a fine for failing to comply with health and safety regulations

Turn to section  O01 of your Health and Safety Advisor to get more solutions to overcrowding in the workplace. 

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