How to maintain a safe workplace and minimise legal risks

by HRD30 Oct 2017
Work-related injury and disease costs the Australian community $61.8 billion a year. This means that poor work health and safety costs $5000 per worker each year and equates to 4.1% of Australia’s gross domestic product.

These statistics are particularly important given October is National Safe Work month and many employers are still failing to take proper action before it is too late.

Clyde & Co Partner Alena Titterton said that Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) laws have been in place for more than five years in a number of jurisdictions around the country.  

“If your organisation has not attended to the following activities in the last two years, it is time to take action to minimise legal liability," she said.

Employers should firstly have organised a Due Diligence Refresher Briefing for the board and executive team and review the adequacy of corporate governance frameworks for health and safety, Titterton added.

Organisations should also have conducted a WHS Legal Compliance Audit of their operations, and close out any gaps that may have arisen through the audit.

Finally, employers should have reviewed their incident response and investigation protocols to ensure they capture incident notification and site preservation legal requirements across the jurisdictions, as well as strategies to respond to the increasing use of general criminal law processes in fatalities.

According to Titterton, there are five mistakes employers in Australia make when it comes to workplace safety:

Thinking that safety people 'do' safety
If you look at every prosecution for health and safety duty of care offences around Australia, common themes emerge.

Every prosecution represents failures in effectively implementing some aspect of the safety risk management process (or its entirety).

Indoctrinating a proactive safety risk management culture throughout an organisation is fundamental.

Failing to effectively manage change
As part of a proactive safety risk management approach, organisations need to understand when circumstances have changed and revisit their assumptions around whether their systems and control measures are still effective.

Many organisations will charge ahead without thinking through safety ramifications of strategic changes, reacting when it's too late.

A failure to appreciate and plan for change is a consistent aspect of the story told in a significant number of serious incidents we investigate.

Failing to proactively manage how your operations interact with others
Sophisticated organisations have systems to manage their own operations, however significant risk often arises where operations overlap with others.

Failing to proactively manage who is responsible for what in the area of overlap leads to misunderstandings and often gaps between systems, leading to incidents.

Understanding areas of operations where multiple parties intersect and how is an important precursor to implementing strategies to manage the overlap.

We don't spend enough time exploring success
There are many days without incident but typically investigations only happen when serious incidents occur.

This means that the majority of our conversations around safety are negative ones. Organisations should spend more time learning from success when things do not go wrong.

This can lead to greater engagement and understanding around what really works for safe outcomes in practice.

Thinking that compliance equals bureaucracy
Conversations in the safety profession in Australia at the moment seem to pit the concepts of practical safety management and legal compliance against one another.

In reality, they are not mutually exclusive concepts. Achieving legal compliance is something that can be managed in the background as part of the process of collaborating with workers in developing more streamlined and practical health and safety management systems.

Clyde & Co's free app, ClydeCovered, can identify whether an incident is notifiable or not.


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