HR and WHS: Are you ready for 2019?

HR leaders must demonstrate a commitment to building a positive safety culture by making WHS a high priority in their organisations, says Alan Girle

HR and WHS: Are you ready for 2019?

According to figures from SafeWork Australia, in the 13 years from 2003 to 2015, 3,207 workers have lost their lives in work-related incidents. These figures should elicit a pretty obvious response in any organisation, but where does the responsibility fall for starting or rekindling the conversation about work health and safety (WHS) in the workplace?

Is WHS a part of someone’s portfolio in HR? The questions to ask are: what happens when an incident occurs in your business? When does HR get involved and to what degree?

Today, WHS is expanding to include the health and wellbeing of an employee as well as the physical safety the employer must provide. This move towards looking after the mental health of sta­ff, along with their physical safety in the workplace, is expanding the portfolio of the HR executive. It goes beyond the compliance documents, audits and training that should be standard practice for all businesses, and encompasses cultural change that engages employees in being proactive in managing WHS risks for themselves and others.

The HR team has the power to drive WHS cultural change in an organisation. Making it an integral part of management is the key. Use the following checklist to gauge how your business promotes a positive WHS culture.

Consider whether your company:

  • includes WHS induction training for every employee
  • regularly conducts consultative reviews of WHS practices with employees
  • communicates to all staff on how to respond to a critical incident – this may depend on the nature of work the team does
  • leads by example and exhibits prompt action when things go wrong – employees need to see that their health and safety matters
  • shares the cost of ineffective WHS practices and remedies to fix this, including training and workers’ compensation or rehabilitation
  • enforces penalties for repeat offenders in breach of WHS policies

When employees understand the importance of best practice WHS, the consequences of breaches, and the commitment management has to the wellbeing and safety of its sta­ff, changes can happen.

If you operate in a unionised workplace, a Health and Safety Committee should be established, made up of a mix of management and employees. If not unionised, it is highly recommended you have such a committee and promote its activity to the business. This needs to be more than just giving someone the fi re warden’s hat for the fi re drill. You need to demonstrate the commitment to building a positive safety culture. Together with the HR leader, this committee should establish a Health and Safety Program that includes the following:

  • WHS inspections and audits
  • staff training
  • incident response training
  • Employee Assistance Programs

Leadership must work fastidiously to promote and engender a culture of work health and safety adherence. This must be a demonstrated by example from the top down, and HR holds the power for establishing uniformity across the organisation.

If this article has made you think that WHS priorities are not top of mind for your sta­ , make 2019 the safety year and shift the culture in your business.

Alan Girle is director of Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors (ABLA). Give Alan a call on 1300 565 846 for a con­fidential chat about how you can shift the focus on safety in your business. Recognised expert in Safety – Doyles 2018.

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