If your professional services business were to fall victim to a fire, theft or health and safety disaster, it's not just your own operations and employees that can suffer as a result, but also your customers and partners.

Don't forget!

There are risk topics not detailed here that affect all businesses, including fire risk assessmenthealth and safety policy and people management.

We also recommend that you take the time to read our advice about business continuity. Issues like loss of power or connectivity and personnel illness can cause significant problems in the delivery and management of professional services.

Arson

Your fire risk assessment, carried out for life safety purposes, may not have considered some of the important factors which are relevant to your arson risk.

Premises become an easy target when little investment has been made into site security, especially in isolated positions. There are firms in this sector that do have the extra burden of being targets for extremists because of the nature of their business, or who they belong to, and for them it is imperative to assess security on a regular basis.

 

Burglary

The last few decades have seen the typical office transformed from a simple collection of furniture and filing cabinets to an array of high-tech computers and other electronic items high on most thieves’ shopping lists. Night time burglaries are all too common but daytime walk-in opportunist theft is also widespread, so don’t be complacent.

The rear of office premises are often dark secluded areas at night. Good security lighting, CCTV, intruder alarm protection and sturdy, safe physical security may make the difference between a quiet life and becoming a crime statistic.

 

Cyber threats

We understand that businesses in this sector are usually highly reliant on connected computer systems and so falling victim to hacking, malware or another type of cyber attack can cause significant problems. Consequenlty, amongst other measures, we recommend getting penetration tests (pentests) carried out on a regular basis and whenever changes to the infrastructure are made. This method works by 'attacking' the system so that security weaknesses can be identified.

A real-world threat to consider is power surges, so installing surge protectors for all of your computer equipment, especially where the building and wiring is old.

It's not possible to foresee and defend against all threats to your IT systems - accidents happen, for instance - so all data essential to the running of your business needs to be backed up. Ideally, you should have more than one server and back-ups should be kept in different locations so that in the event one of your premises is damaged or destroyed (i.e. by fire or flood) you will still have the data that your business relies on. You might also want to consider using a trusted cloud service to back up your data (in addition to physical back-ups), but make sure to check the security precautions your chosen provider uses.

 

Data management

Professional services businesses often obtain and hold confidential information on their clients and other third parties which, if not handled and/or disposed of correctly, can leave you and your clients vulnerable to theft, fraud and other risks. Confidential information includes data such as bank account details and addresses but in various instances it may also stretch to CCTV footage.

Have a system in place so that confidential information is kept only for as long as is absolutely necessary. Shredding confidential papers before recycling/disposing of them and/or utilising a workplace services provider for disposal of confidential papers and data is just one step to take when preventing sensitive information reaching the wrong hands.

 

Display screen equipment

Many office workers spend a large part of their working day using computer equipment, often sitting in the same place for long periods looking at a screen. If not managed properly, this can lead to a variety of injuries and illnesses such as fatigue and eyestrain, but also musculoskeletal disorders. Office workers are particularly vulnerable to upper limb disorders (ULDs), often first noticed as neck, shoulder, back or arm/wrist pain, and other medical conditions, such as repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Managing this hazard not only makes good sense but, for employers, it is also a legal duty under health and safety legislation, including the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations.

 

Electricity

Not all office buildings have the right sort of modern electrical wiring and protective devices that they need and, sometimes, as businesses expand their additional equipment can start to overload the electrical installation. Regular reviews of the wiring and protective devices within your premises, especially in older buildings, can help reduce the risk of fire.

Wiring and protective devices may not match up to current standards and, as your business expands and electrical installations and equipment advance, there is a risk that they will become overloaded. It is only by inspection, by a competent electrician or electrical contractor, that these issues can be found and the danger removed by remedial work.

Additionally, a lack of electrical sockets can lead to the use of extension cables, increasing the fire and trips risk, as well as the chances of cable damage. Don't forget that portable electrical appliances also can, if left unchecked, become unsafe over time due to damage or wear and tear so a system should be in place to try and make sure that this doesn’t happen.

The initial warning signs of a potential problem in electrical installations can include plugs, sockets, cables and fuse boxes that get hot or have brown scorch marks, circuit breakers which trip for no obvious reason or because an excessive electric load is being imposed on them and lights that flicker or go out as soon as they are turned on.

 

Emergency procedures

The premises of professional services businesses often contain a large amount of people and in the event of an emergency it can be a challenge to get all of those people where they need to be promptly and safely if there is a lack of preparation.

As part of your fire risk assessment you should've developed an evacuation plan which includes the assignment of assembly points and maintenance of paper registers to be used by fire wardens (assigned, trained employees) to ensure everyone has vacated the building. Arrangements should also be made for visitors, including a book in which they sign in and out of the premises that can be used as a register.

Some businesses in this sector may find that they're at an increased risk of incidents that require an invacuation. An invacuation is where people are enclosed in an area during an incident such as a nearby fire (not in the building), gas leak or bomb threat. At-risk organisations tend to be within major cities and/or find themselves, or their neighbours, to be targets of extremists.

 

Employee kitchens

Providing facilities that allow employees to make hot drinks, heat up food and wash up dishes, cutlery and cups can come with a variety of risks if they're not used sensibly and appropriately maintained and cleaned.

Toasters, for example, can become a fire safety hazard if left unattended and there's a build up of crumbs within. This scenario might result in smoke which triggers an unnecessary evacuation, and that could create dangerous assumptions that future activations are similarly false alarms, but there's also a chance of a fire igniting. A variety of health and safety hazards need to be taken into account too, such as scalds and burns from the use of kettles, electrical shocks if water is allowed to spread, and slips and trips due to spillages.

 

Employee fraud and theft

Businesses in this sector often handle lots of invoices, receipts, bank account details and other financial documents which an employee tempted to commit fraud could manipulate. The business may also rely on exclusive data, sales leads and/or professional partnerships which competitors have an interest in; an employee could pass on information for their own benefit.

There are various other criminal ways employees can profit at the expense of your business, including, for example, faking or exaggerating claims for travel expenses and client entertainment costs.

 

Flooding

If offices and other work environments used by your organisation are impacted by flooding, either directly or indirectly, the business can quickly face financial and reputational damage due to the interruption that might be caused.

Modern connected technology now means it's possible for some employees to easily work from home or at temporary premises if needed, and this can reduce some of the disruption a flood might cause. For others, the premises might contain specialist computers and other electronic equipment that are essential to operations and which might be destroyed it floodwater is able to get in the building.

 

Heating

Although many modern office buildings have good central heating, some businesses supplement this with portable heaters. If not properly controlled, a portable heater can increase the risk of fire, electrical overload, trips and burns. Consequently, the use of these appliances should be avoided as much as possible, particularly where a safer form of fixed heating can be provided.

If it's been deemed appropriate to allow portable heaters, make sure that the hazards they may present are properly assessed by someone suitable competent to ensure they're overloading the building's electrical installation.

All of the heating appliances need to be taken into account when assessing health and safety and fire risks. A fire could start in seconds simply from papers falling off a desk and landing close to an operating portable heater. To avoid this example scenario, don’t allow things to be placed on top of heaters and provide guards if necessary.

 

Intellectual property

Intellectual property (IP) is defined as "something unique that you physically create", and there are various types of protection for it. The most relevant types for professional services are likely to be trademarks, used to safeguard product names and logos, and copyright, an automatic right covering "Writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content [and] sound recordings".

Until your intellectual property is registered you may require a non-disclosure agreement with those you discuss it with. Don’t forget the risk that can come from your own employees and ensure that they are fully aware of the potential cyber threats that could leave your business vulnerable to intellectual property theft and how to avoid becoming a victim.

 

Lone working

If the last person to leave the office at the end of the day were to trip and fall, get stuck in a lift or be attacked by intruders it could potentially be days before they're found, especially if they live alone and/or there is a long holiday period. You can also have professionals, such as surveyors and estate agents, who may be asked to visit vacant premises; doing so on their own may put them in unnecessary danger so it's necessary for lone working risk assessments to be carried out.

 

Passive fire protection

Modern office buildings generally have a variety of fire defence mechanisms. However, older premises often lack the fire resistance features you would expect to find in more recent builds and seemingly insignificant work like installing or extending computer and communications systems by making holes in partition and shaft walls, floors, ceilings, etc. can, if not suitably fire-stopped, allow a fire to spread much quicker through a building.

 

Power surges

If business premises are affected by a lightning strike or power surge, it can cause significant disruption by knocking out the power supply and/or damaging electrical installations and equipment, including servers that you might depend upon for connectivity. In some cases, these events may also ignite a fire which can lead to widespread destruction which could take months to recover from.

 

Slips and trips

Offices and other premises that professional services operate from often contain a large amount of people, each with their own computer equipment and paperwork. While management have responsibilities related to housekeeping, employees should be made aware of the hazards presented by cables, waste and spillages, including the slips and trips and fire risks.

The risks are not just present inside premises. During the colder and wetter months, walkways, stairs and car parks may be hazardous to both employees and visitors. Especially in older buildings, wear and tear, such as exposed wires and unstable bannisters, could present dangers to employees and visitors.

 

Waste management

A variety of hazards can be generated by a lack of appropriate waste management measures. Build-ups of combustible waste increase the risk of fires, while hazardous waste materials which aren't properly contained can cause pollution incidents. A lack of housekeeping around waste storage might also lead to slips and trips

For professional services, it can be particularly vital to dispose of documents and data storage devices, such as hard drives and DVDs, in a secure manner to prevent confidential and sensitive information falling into the hands of fraudsters and other criminals.

 

Water damage

It might be surprising for some how much disruption can be caused if a building is damaged by water and also how easily it can happen. Most professional services businesses rely on the use of computer equipment to operate, so if the electrical installations within the premises are knocked out by water (or even just exposure to moist air) there can be significant disruption caused.

Poorly maintained roofs and gutters and pipes that freeze and/or burst in extreme cold are common sources for water that leads to extensive damage.

 

Work-related stress

Stress is not an illness, it's a state, but if stress becomes excessive and prolonged mental and/or physical illnesses may develop. If an employer ignores the potential for employees to suffer stress and consequent depression and anxiety, there can be an adverse effect on the business in terms of staff performance, turnover and commitment to work. More importantly however, it can affect an employee’s general health.

In professional services, a significant factor which can have a negative impact on workers' mental health is workload, while a lack of support and bullying are also often put forward as reasons.