For those looking forward to a happy, successful and most of all healthy 2018, Alan Girle provides his top WHS tips for employers
Where do you start when you are developing a work health and safety (WHS) system? There is a lot of material provided by both government and associations to help, but what are the top five things to get you going? Below are my top tips for reviewing WHS procedures that will help ensure a safe work environment.
- Lead from the top
Make sure the business has a credible safety policy and have the leaders of the business speak to it frequently. Many hazards and risks can be minimised simply by improving the culture of the business. Endeavour to persuade the workforce that safety is a priority and will not be compromised by other things.
- Identify hazards that are likely to result in injuries
Hazards are everywhere. Focus on a manageable list of hazards that are likely to result in injuries in the workplace. While improvements in culture may be effective in addressing some of these hazards (eg, ladders), go through the hierarchy of controls set out in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 to ensure that the best control measures are employed.
- Identify hazards that could cause major injuries
Managing frequent exposure to hazards is an important part of any WHS system, but infrequent hazards can also be important if the potential consequences are high. Identify those hazards that could seriously injure a person (eg, amputation or death). While these hazards may not be likely, the cost to the business will be substantial. Sometimes the cost of a serious injury is enough to break a business and, for that reason, they have to be considered separately. High risk hazards that have the potential to cause serious injury cannot always be rectified by a change in culture. These types of hazards may require physical changes to the business (eg, guarding or separation of personnel from plant). Prioritise these hazards for attention and put in place an annual budget for their attention.
- Conduct a legal audit
Depending upon where a business is located in Australia, there will be a variety of WHS obligations at law. Initially, keep things simple. Identify all the legal WHS obligations that apply to the business and determine whether there is at least one policy, procedure or practice in place that is designed to satisfy that obligation. Where a WHS obligation is identified that is not addressed by the business, then give it priority for action.
- Conduct a safety audit
Often safety audits are built around Australian Standards and they can completely miss legal obligations under a variety of statutes. For this reason, it is best to conduct safety audits after legal audits. The results of the legal audit can be given to the WHS auditor, who can then incorporate any legal compliance gaps into their audit program. Safety audits should be conducted at least annually, so that the business is continually improving.
Maintaining a safe and healthy work environment is a demanding obligation and with the abundance of documentation readily available on the internet, it is all too easy to lose focus on what is important. Taking these five steps above will allow the business to focus in on what is important and what needs to be done. Start by leading from the top and focusing on those things that will make an immediate difference.
Alan Girle is a director at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors (ABLA). Serving business and only business, ABLA is trusted by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and is the leading voice for business in the Fair Work Commission. Contact Alan on 1300 565 846 or [email protected] if you have any questions about Work Health and Safety.