Where do you start when 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 ten things to get you going? Below are ten tips for reviewing WHS procedures that will help ensure a safe work environment.
1. 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.
2. 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. Whilst improvements in culture may be effective in addressing some of these hazards (e.g. 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.
3. Identify hazard that could cause major injuries
Focus on those hazards that could seriously injure a person (e.g. amputation or death). Whilst these hazards may not be likely, the cost to the business will be substantial. These types of hazards may require physical changes to the business (e.g. guarding). Prioritise these hazards for attention and put in place an annual budget for their attention.
4. 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.
5. 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 gaps into their audit program. Safety audits should be conducted at least annually so that the business in continually improving.
6. Identify who your officers and senior officers are
Officers as defined under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) have specific obligations under that Act and Senior Officers as defined can be charged with industrial manslaughter under the same Act. Having clarity around which employees are officers and/or senior officers, allows for more precise allocation of safety responsibilities and key performance indicators.
7. Review employment and other contracts from a WHS perspective
Contracts are often drafted by professionals focused on commercial litigation. This can result in commercial arrangements that will not be useful in the event of a WHS incident. Have your contracts reviewed by a specialist WHS lawyer.
8. Appoint a WHSO and consult workers
The obligations in each state vary and in Queensland the WHS Act provides that the appointment of a work health and safety officer (WHSO) or a health and safety representative (HSR) is evidence of compliance with the WHS Act. Conversely, failure to appoint a WHSO or HSR is evidence of non-compliance with the WHS Act. WHSOs are appointed by the business. They can be contractually bound to follow the directions of the business (so long as the contract does not conflict with the WHS Act). They are often a more workable solution for identifying where the business can achieve safety gains and prioritising those opportunities against available resources.
Consulting with workers is an obligation under the WHS Act, but more importantly, it creates an opportunity to build a culture of collaborative improvements in safety. Done well, consultation will identify abundant opportunities for improvement and will engage the workforce on a journey to a safer, more cost effective work environment.
9. Develop incident response plans
Whilst businesses should focus on achieving safety gains, it is always important to acknowledge what can happen when things go wrong. Engage experts to assist in developing incident response plans so that the business is protected against legal, public relations and financial risk. Once the plans are prepared, develop simple procedures so that all employees know what their responsibilities are and how they are expected to behave if an incident occurs.
10. Conduct drills
Hopefully safety incidents will be rare. Whilst this is the goal, the consequence is that workers may become unfamiliar with their obligations in the event of an incident. For example, if workers occupy roles where they are authorised to press and emergency stopping, protection or alarm device (e.g. a button or lanyard), then go through the process of having them activate the device so that they are confident that if the need arises.
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