Spreading the word on OHS

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There has been a significant increase in legislative requirements for employers to provide employee OHS awareness and training. Carole Goldsmith speaks with a number of training professionals about the best ways to spread the word on OHS

In New South Wales, WorkCover NSW legally requires employers to provide OHS training to meet the duty of care requirements and ensure health, safety and welfare of employees.

“Employee OHS awareness and training can cover a range of topics from emergency procedures, injury reporting, to risk management. Many of these requirements are covered in the employee’s OHS induction,”says Natasha White, OHS specialist at the NSW Business Chamber.

In Victoria, section 21 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 requires employers to provide a safe and healthy work environment for employees and contractors. Employers must also supply employees with information, instruction, training or supervision to work safely and without risks to their health.

Gayle Burmeister, health and safety organiser for the National Union of Workers, conducts OHS training for Victorian health and safety representatives and national OHS training for the ACTU.

“The training we conduct for health and safety representatives is unfortunately limited by the restrictions placed on us through the OHS Act,” says Burmeister. “That is, they can only attend a five-day WorkCover Victoria approved course. But the approach we have had with this training is to focus on the representative role of the health and safety representative. After the first part of the course, the health and safety representatives complete a workplace project.”

Representatives need to convene a meeting of their workgroup to identify OHS issues and conduct a body mapping session, she says. They then conduct an area inspection and discuss findings with their work group. After that they prepare a report, using resources such as photographs, drawings, graphs and hazard maps, to present at the course.

Benefits of OHS awareness and training

Apart from focusing on the compliance requirements of the legislation, employers need to appreciate the benefits of training. White says tailored OHS training programs can provide increased awareness of workplace hazards, development of employee skills, abilities and knowledge, standardisation of work activities and processes, and a means by which workplace behaviour can be influenced and work performance improved.

“Through training, additional benefits such as reduction in workplace incidents and workers compensation, costs can be influenced. Some directors, CEOs and senior managers focus on business improvement strategies to manage OHS. Identifying that effectively managing safety, will lead to lower business costs and an improvement in productivity,” she says.

“Others focus on meeting their legal obligations, which are the driving force behind implementing OHS strategies in their business. Finally, there is the moral obligation that will have a significant impact, where they do not want their employees injured as it is the right thing to do.”

OHS at Integrated Packaging

Paul Burggraaf is training and OHS coordinator for stretch wrap film manufacturer, Integrated Packaging Australia. Based at Reservoir, Victoria, Burggraaf also assists interstate sales managers with any OHS issues.

“Our health and safety representatives and the manufacturing department managers have undergone the WorkCover Victoria approved five-day training course, with the relevant refreshers also undertaken,”he says.

“Forklift operators are licensed and the first aiders are trained as required. We undertake internal training in safe operation of equipment used in our process as well as safe manual handling techniques, back safety and safe workplace awareness programs.”

Developing OHS awareness

Relevant OHS information is provided through Integrated Packaging Australia’s toolbox meetings. Videos and interactive computer-based programs for back safety and forklift awareness are used as refreshers for these subjects. These programs deliver information and a questionnaire that is completed by the employee to assess their level of understanding. This allows individuals to be reviewed at their own learning pace, according to Burggraaf. “Good communication is a cornerstone. Good two-way communication, not only for OHS but all facets within the workplace, make it all work better,” he says.

“Being a 24/7 operation, with rotating day/night shifts, we provided information and training on the effects that working rotating shifts have on us and our families. Team leaders and supervisors attend specific electrical training, which include electrical safety awareness. This, we found, took away a blaséattitude to electricity without having to experience its bite first hand.”

Major culture change is also achievable through a consistent, honest approach with all stakeholders in the workplace, Burggraaf says. “We have tried to be as open with clear objectives of making our workplace as safe as possible. This has resulted in major reductions in workplace injuries. The follow-on has been improved productivity through less time off, together with gains through training and awareness, not only in OHS but in quality control, productivity and better job satisfaction.”

Benefits of OHS training

Through OHS awareness and training, Integrated Packaging Australia’s injury incidence rates have fallen dramatically, Burggraaf reports. “Our injury data is reported to the management team weekly. Over four years, all workplace injuries, and especially lost time injuries, have reduced drastically. The effects flow through to the work groups with staff turnover negligible,” he says.

The 2006/07 WorkCover premium also shows a reduction in premium of around 30 per cent from the 2002/03 premium, according to Burggraaf, while productivity is also up dramatically as a result.