KANBrief 2/11

Safe work in offices

Office work is the prevailing form of work in Germany. At present, approximately 17 million people in Germany have an office workplace, and the number is still rising. In this context, the “human factor” acquires crucial importance. No one aiming to create competitive office workplaces can afford to ignore occupational safety and health.

Even modern offices are not free of stresses. Besides health problems caused by lack of movement and asymmetrical stresses, the noise, climate and ventilation of open-plan office areas are a particular source of stresses. To these are added the ergonomic stresses associated with laptops and mobile phones during mobile office work.

The majority of ergonomic problems associated with office work could, however, be resolved. Some stresses are caused by trends or design, even though comprehensive ergonomic findings and experience are available, and modern information and communications technology provides considerable scope for structuring of the working process. In addition, office work is subject to user-friendly regulations with which the responsible parties within companies are relatively familiar.

The German Office Network (DNB)

 The key to improving the quality of office work lies above all in closer co-operation between the parties responsible for workplace design, particularly with regard to small and medium-sized enterprises. This was the background against which the “Deutsches Netzwerk Büro” (DNB, German Office Network) was founded two years ago. The DNB is a product of the New Quality of Work Initiative (INQA).

The aim of the DNB is to improve office work through health-based, innovative design. Since the various parties are often not closely familiar with each other’s tasks, competencies and interests, the DNB can help them to find easier solutions to complex office design issues. All issues of planning and furnishing are addressed, up to and including the resolving of technical, organizational, ergonomic and social issues.

The DNB can call upon the activities and resources of its members, now over 40 in number, who are active primarily in the area of occupational safety and health, office equipment and ergonomics. In the future, the standards sector will be represented by the Ergonomics Standards Committee at DIN, which is seeking membership of the DNB. The DNB has a presence at major events such as Orgatec and the A+A, and is preparing an office conference for 2012.

With its joint project under the heading “Quality Office”, an initiative has been launched under the auspices of the bso, the industry association for office, seating and commercial furniture, with the aim of certifying products and services in the area of office work in accordance with a harmonized concept. Certification will be based upon the “Quality criteria for office workplaces” guideline.


Numerous standards and technical rules concerning offices already exist. Examples of their scope include display screens, keyboards, furniture, lighting, and the ergonomic design of office workplaces. In some of these areas, new environmental regulations have had effects upon occupational safety and health, and may also require adjustments to the standards. For example, sound-reflecting surfacings are increasingly being used in offices. Although easier to dispose of, these surfacings also cause higher noise levels. In the area of lighting, a problem exists in that the requirements of the German Energysaving Regulation (the regulation supports the German energy-saving legislation, which in turn transposes EU directive 2002/91/ EC concerning the overall energy efficiency of buildings) are not directly compatible with the provisions in the standards governing lighting levels in offices.

New tasks are also arising in the area of software ergonomics, which addresses the design of dialogs at the human-computer interface. The EN ISO 9241 series of standards, “Ergonomics of human-system interaction”, was recently extended to encompass subjects such as the World Wide Web, flat screens, and mobile devices (laptops and organizers).

Ambient intelligence constitutes a completely new topic. This new technology facilitates everyday (office) work by the close networking of sensors, wireless modules and computer processors which can be operated from any point and which adapt automatically to the particular requirements of individual users. From an OSH perspective, it is important for standardization to respond to the technical developments from the outset and to remain closely in step with them.

Bruno Zwingmann President of the DNB