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The holiday season signals a time to give back to the community by supporting groups working for a good cause. As well as the wider community, coworking space operators can make sure their own communities are well looked after with a gift that keeps on giving. By creating a safe place for coworkers to work and making sure a space is equipped to deal with workplace emergencies, space operators can help create an environment conducive to year-long merriment.
By Anna Cashman - Tuesday, 13 December 2011

This article idea was inspired by a Coworking Google Group discussion that generated a large amount of interest. We too felt this to be an important topic - here, we have presented the ideas of members of the community in the hope that it will reach a wide audience:

When it comes to occupational health and safety (OHS) standards and emergency preparedness measures, companies and private offices are light-years ahead of most coworking spaces. Whether they are motivated by pursuing a higher moral ground or simply by covering their legal backsides, companies have it right: OHS measures are essential to ensure that employees are safe and that emergencies can be prevented or dealt with promptly.

While many coworking spaces take pride in the fact that they are the ‘unoffice’, this should not exempt them from safe workplace practices or emergency preparedness; especially since the wellbeing of their coworkers is at the centre of their philosophy.

One important part of OHS is reducing workplace hazards, and naturally this should always be considered. A safe workplace environment, however, goes beyond changing the batteries of smoke alarms and taping electrical cords to the floor (although that clumsy member present in every space may greatly appreciate this).

An issue widely overlooked by coworking spaces is emergency preparedness and the resources both staff and community members may need if an incident arises. Companies and private offices in particular are proficient in this regard, and there are several simple measures coworking spaces can adopt in order to be better prepared.

Do you know where your nearest hospital is?

First and foremost, it is important for coworking spaces to know their area. In the same way that prominent exit signs are necessary in case of a fire, having a visible list of hospitals and medical practitioners in your area means that time is not wasted flicking through the Yellow Pages or internet searching while someone is in dire need of medical attention.

After all, while coworking space operators and members may be familiar with their neighbourhood in terms of restaurants and the fastest way to the bus stop, it is unlikely that the nearest hospital ward will be at the vanguard of their memory. Taking a few minutes to list the nearest medical facilities and posting them up in prominent positions around a coworking space may make all the difference in an emergency.

As well as knowing the area, it is equally important to know the workers in a space. Companies are diligent with collecting important information about their employees, many requiring them to provide basic medical information when they are first hired. In the same way, coworking spaces can ask of new and existing members some fundamental medical information which can prove very useful in knowing exactly who to contact if an emergency occurs.

Are there coworkers with allergies in your space?

Understandably, some coworkers may be hesitant in providing personal information to their coworking space, and under no circumstances should these questions be made mandatory. By the same token, questions that are too intrusive should be avoided. Asking a member’s allergies and contact details of their General Practitioner is one thing; asking them to dot-point their medical history is quite another. Explaining to the coworker that the information will be kept confidential might help prevent an awkward situation, as well as reducing the likelihood of medical emergencies.

These above actions will help identify the right person to contact; in the meantime, it is essential there is someone on site who knows how to treat individual needing medical attention, and indeed, some simple first aid may be all that is required.

When was your last first aid training?

Another tip coworking spaces can learn from the traditional workplace is the emphasis they place on CPR and first aid training. As well as requesting members to include any medical information when they join a space, why not ask if they have had any medical training or are qualified to perform first aid? This will help you identify the go-to man or woman in the event of a medical emergency.

By contrast, many companies ensure that these staff-members are well known by all employees, requiring them to wear a badge or place a sign on their desks. A desk sign stating ‘The Doctor is In’ may come off as a little intrusive in a coworking space – so it’s advisable that this information be kept to the coworking space staff.

Naturally, the full-time nature of the company worker means that a person qualified to deal with a medical emergency is almost always on site. The flexible hours of the coworker and a healthy dose of Murphy’s Law means is it likely that the certified individual is not present during the time of an incident. One way to increase emergency preparedness in a space is to offer CPR and first aid training to the whole community.

As well as making your space safer, annual or half-yearly training sessions would contribute to the personal development of the members and encourage community interaction. If coworking space operators and their staff were also to complete the training, there would always be someone present qualified to deal with a workplace incident.

First aid equipment on hand?

One final step coworking spaces learn from companies is to make sure that the first aiders have the necessary equipment. Replenishing the supplies in a first aid kit and making sure none of its contents are expired should be made a self imposed law.

While we’re busy discussing the advantages of a coworking space over a traditional workplace, the things that companies do well should not be overlooked: particularly when it is a question of the community’s wellbeing. Simple OHS measures and emergency preparedness champions the community in a space by looking after the safety and wellbeing of each individual, while demonstrating care and attention to one another creates an even tighter working environment.

Emergency Preparedness Checklist:

Do you know the emergency numbers?

Do you know where your nearest hospital is?

Can you identify those in your space with serious medical conditions?

Can you identify those in your space with first aid certification?

Is your first aid kit fully stocked?


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