Why Work Health & Safety Is Essential For Businesses

Updated March 19th 2020

By Ben Chinwah, Benchmark OHS Consulting

Every year across Australian workplaces there are 190 fatalities and close to 150,000 work related injuries. The statistics shine a light on industries and show that workplace deaths aren’t just a workplace issue – but a community one. There are family members who do not go home to their families because of these workplace accidents.

The below statistics echo a growing need for companies to focus on protecting their people along with their profits and assets; and most of all ensure their people get home safely:

  • 72 % of fatalities are in three industries:
    (Transport Postal and Warehousing (54
    workers), Construction (30 workers) and
    Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing – 52)
  • 32 % (60 workers) are killed by vehicles
  • 18% (35 workers) are hit by objects
  • 15% (28 workers) are killed by falls

Last year we saw a Queensland Company Director go to jail for up to 7 years for an electrocution of a worker which could have been prevented. Australia has some of the toughest laws when it comes to work health and safety along with some of the biggest consequences for Duty Officers (Company Directors) who have direct influence over work health and safety within the workplace. The national harmonisation laws and the WHS Act 2011 now have company fines of $3 million dollars with up to $600,000 fines for Directors and/or imprisonment up to 5 years.

When an incident occurs, the Regulator’s attitude eg. SafeWork NSW (formerly WorkCover) will aim to make sure the owners of companies and Directors / CEOs are directly accountable for accidents that occur and see the accident as a direct reflection on the company’s safety leadership and decision making towards prioritising health and safety. Regulators are now requesting that companies have a budget for work safety management along with including safety and training as a line item within the profit and loss statements in order to show diligence in meeting the WHS Act requirements.

So, what can companies do to ensure they don’t fall victim to some of the heavy fines and imprisonment that come under Work Health and Safety laws? Organisations that want to be proactive and ensure they are not exposed need to start with the following steps:

Step 1: Conduct a WHS Gap Analysis

This process will assist and organisation in identifying their WHS compliance gaps and whether or not their existing systems, procedures / process along with the physical work environment complies with health and safety requirements. Businesses would then need to come up with a corrective action plan to fix these gaps. In most cases what we have identified with our clients is they don’t have a systematic approach to managing work health and safety (which organisations are required to have by law).

Step 2: Develop a WHS Management System (Policies and Procedures)

There are Australian / New Zealand standards such as AS/NZ4801 – OHS Management Systems and International Standards – ISO45001 – OHS Management which provide criteria which is endorsed by legislative requirements to assist organisations in developing work health and safety policies and procedures around some of the below areas required by businesses:

WHS Inductions – Setting WHS expectations for all workers and contractors for hazardous work activities that your organisation undertakes. Provision for safe operating procedures on hazardous equipment or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements.

WHS Risk Management – Undertaking documented Workplace Inspections, risk assessments, audits, job safety analysis
and Safe Work Method Statements to identify, assess and control hazards and risks within the workplace.

WHS Consultation Arrangements – Establish and document a meeting forum between management, workers and any stakeholders or contractors in order to discuss and resolve safety issues that arise within the workplace. These safety issues, concerns and any safety decisions made at these meetings should be communicated with all staff.

WHS Incident Reporting and Provision for Emergencies – Businesses need to have incident reporting procedures in place in the event of an emergency, medically treated or lost time incident. More serious ‘notifiable incidents’ need to be reported to the Regulator. These procedures must be documented and communicated to all workers within the business.

WHS Records – When incidents occur, businesses are always required to have evidence of providing workers with information, instruction and training relating to WHS requirements. Hence,  records of WHS inductions, inspections, meetings, incident reporting and provisions for emergencies are all crucial for ensuring a compliant and safe workplace.

Step 3: WHS Implementation

So now that businesses have WHS systems, policies and procedures in place – what next? 

Well, we need to develop a WHS implementation plan or set of corrective actions to start implementing our systems and procedures across the business. This will start with obtaining buy in from senior management teams on our new systems and procedures. Then proceeding to train operational managers and leaders in the WHS system and safety expectations. Further implementation activities may include: inducting staff, scheduling WHS inspections, audits, creating registers of equipment/maintenance checks and testing and tagging along with WHS hazard identification and mandatory compliance training for all staff.

Step 4: WHS Audits (WHS System Performance)

Once systems and procedures are implemented within an organisation its important to continually try and improve safety performance by conducting scheduled WHS Audits to test and measure the effectiveness of the WHS management system. Any gaps identified through WHS audits can be noted as corrective actions for improvements to be prioritised by the business and escalated to relevant stakeholders.

Once organisations have addressed basic legal compliance, they can progress from a vulnerable and reactive state to developing a proactive safety culture. This may involve raising the bar in terms of safety performance and focusing not just on compliance, systems and procedures but looking at reflective safety behaviours displayed by workers within the workplace.

This is a strong indicator that company’s safety mission, vision and values along with culture are being absorbed by the workplace. WHS can be confusing (and sometimes a minefield!), so careful consideration should be given to the level of support needed from external or inhouse WHS professionals. Having the right systems in place will not only avoid fines and accidents, but will form the foundation needed to support growth into the future.

By Ben Chinwah. Ben is the Director of
Benchmark OHS Consulting.