When it comes to running a business, there is a lot to do. Employers need to think about managing company strategy, finance, customers, corporation rules and legislation and of course employees.
On top of this, there is work health and safety (WHS).
WHS relates to the management of the risks to the health and safety of workers, and anyone else in the workplace, including customers, visitors, suppliers and contractors.
Employers are required by law to ensure the health and safety of workers and not put the health and safety of other people at risk. To do this, employers must:
- Provide a safe environment (both physically and psychologically safe);
- Provide and maintain safe machinery and structures;
- Provide safe ways of working;
- Ensure safe use, handling and storage of machinery, structures and substances;
- Provide and maintain adequate safety and first aid facilities;
- Provide information, training, instruction and supervision needed for safety;
- Monitor the health of workers and conditions at the workplace.
The frameworks, policies, procedures, and other activities that a business may apply to comply with the above responsibilities form a Work Health and Safety Management System.
How do WHS laws operate?
Each state has a Work Health and Safety Act and set of Work Health and Safety Regulations.
The Act and Regulations are legally enforceable, so any breaches may result in prosecution and penalties. The state regulator enforces these laws (e.g. SafeWork NSW).
Each state also has a number of WHS “Codes of Practice”. These are written on a specific topic and give practical advice on how to meet obligations under the Act and Regulation. For example, ‘Hazardous Manual Tasks’ and ‘Confined Spaces’. While these are not strictly ‘law’, they can be used in court proceedings as evidence of whether a business has been complying with its WHS duties.
Workers’ compensation law also provides obligations regarding supporting employees who are injured at work and how they are integrated back into the workplace.
Additionally, there are several Australian “Standards” that may apply for specific work or activities, compliance with which ensures a business is adhering to best practices in safety management.
On occasion, certain Codes of Practice and Australian Standards are required to be followed by specific pieces of legislation.
Finally, certain industries also have other applicable laws and regulations that cross over into WHS. In these cases, it is important to ensure workplace health and safety procedures and other organisational procedures align to enable correct application at an operational level.
For example, the disability industry has reportable incident requirements in accordance with the Ombudsman Act 1974. Under each state’s WHS Act, it is also a requirement to report incidents and injuries that arise. A disability provider must therefore ensure both reporting systems are in place and workers know which reporting system to use, to ensure no mandatory reporting is missed or incorrectly reported.
Employees have legal obligations under the WHS Acts too
While the majority of WHS responsibilities under the law lie with employers, employees also have certain legal duties to adhere to.
They (employees) must:
- take reasonable care for their own health and safety;
- take reasonable care of the health and safety of others;
- comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedures given by their employer, or other controllers of the workplace.
Quality not quantity is key in WHS
How does an employer work out what is necessary to comply with its WHS duties?
The best thing an employer can do is understand the safety risks in its business and what works and what doesn’t work in managing those risks.
Whilst written WHS policies are useful, they will only ever be part of the solution and a business needs to ensure that safety is something that will be embedded in its culture and that systems are set up so that safety is frequently discussed and improved upon.
If a business has never thought about safety systems before, it must undertake an organisational risk assessment including considerations of what laws and other requirements apply to it, to determine what would be reasonably practicable and suitable WHS Management System to implement in that workplace.
Lastly, employers are under a duty to consult workers on safety matters and consultation must be a key part of introducing safety systems.
Any good WHS Management System includes the following elements:
- A written WHS Policy setting out employers and employees’ duties;
- Risk management procedures (including risk assessment processes that will be used to determine safety risks when new processes/situations arise);
- Safe work procedures or instructions on how to work safely if there are any hazardous tasks or equipment at the workplace;
- Consultation procedures (how you talk to your team about WHS issues or changes);
- Training and competency processes e.g. (induction processes, and how you will ensure your employees are trained and competent to undertake the jobs you have given them);
- Incident response, reporting and investigation procedures;
- A “Return to Work Program” which deals with how employees injured at work are supported to return to the workplace and is usually a mandatory legal requirement under workers’ compensation law;
- Review and improvement procedures (how will you ensure your business is continuing to improve its WHS practices and outcomes).
Within those dot points will usually be a number of additional procedures, forms and activities. However, keeping your system realistic and manageable is the top priority.
The right system for your business will be one that the leadership team feel confident promoting and that employees actively use. Any elements that are not working can always be changed during a scheduled review, of course, in consultation with relevant employees.
Work health and safety must be at the forefront of business leaders’ minds and priorities. The health and safety of people at work must come first.
When you have safe and healthy employees, you have better morale, productivity, business reputation and lower business risks such as those associated with workers compensation claims and premium increases, frequent employee turnover, and WHS penalties & prosecutions.
About Employment Innovations
Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium-sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management, WHS services, and HR software.
The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.