Covid-19 has reinforced the importance of providing a safe and healthy workplace. As we move away from the latest surge in infections, now is a good opportunity to look at Work (occupational) Health and Safety matters more broadly. Building a strong safety culture in your workplace is critical to ensure wellbeing and mitigate legal risks.
This article will look at the minimum obligations of employers and employees alike – and assist members with meeting their legal requirements.
The Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 (the “Act”) was developed with the intention to create a nationalised Work, Health and Safety (WHS) system. All Australian employers (excluding those in Victoria) are bound by the Act. While Victorian employers are covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the obligations and requirements under both sets of legislation are similar.
Under the Act, a ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking’ – a PCBU – has a primary duty of care. That being, to (as far as reasonably practicable) ensure the health and safety of workers in the workplace, and ensure that the health and safety of other persons are not put at risk by the work performed by the business.
The second key role under the Act is an Officer – this is a person who makes decisions that affect the whole or a substantial part of the business. This typically refers to the business owner and senior management staff. The Act assigns them the responsibility to ensure due diligence is taken by the business to meet their requirements under the Act.
The Act identifies four key operational responsibilities businesses must address to fulfil their safety obligations:
It is best to take a preventative approach to WHS. This means developing a risk management methodology to ensure safety in the workplace so far as reasonably practicable.
Risk management looks at:
Following this, tailored policies and procedures can be developed.
The risk management process should always be ongoing and subject to regular reviews of the workplace. If risks or hazards emerge in the day-to-day happenings of the workplace, these should be reported immediately so they can be addressed before they harm anyone.
Policies and procedures play a vital role in managing health and safety. They provide structure and consistency to the workplace to help proactively address WHS concerns. Rather than a ‘one fits all’ approach, they should be tailored to specifically meet the requirements of each business, as no two individual businesses are exactly alike.
These policies and procedures are best kept in a WHS manual, where all workers can easily access it and understand the systems and processes in place.
Employers have an obligation to consult with workers on WHS matters as far as reasonably practicable. Consultation must take place concerning any changes to the workplace that may affect them, decisions related to WHS procedures, and the day-to-day adequacy of the facilities in place to maintain their safety.
Consultation refers to the general process of sharing information with workers, allowing them the chance to provide feedback on how this affects them, and giving their feedback due consideration before making any final decisions.
This also allows the employees to actively contribute to a safe workplace culture. Further, employees are an invaluable source of knowledge when it comes to WHS as they are likely the ones to encounter risks and hazards first. Therefore, their first-hand perspective must be considered.
Practically, ‘safety check-ups’ can be included as part of regular team meetings to keep the issue of safety at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and to incentivise participation across all levels of the business.
In addition to face-to-face meetings, managers and leaders can provide regular updates (such as via email) to keep safety relevant.
Policies and other safety mechanisms will not be effective without proper training, and the Act does require that a PCBU provide workers with the training required to protect themselves and others from risks to their health and safety.
This training should take place regularly (such as annually) to ensure that workers remain up to date on the workplace’s WHS systems and processes.
All new workers should also receive an induction program that includes informing them about WHS policies and procedures in the workplace and where to access them.
It’s important for businesses to be aware of their WHS obligations. The benefits extend from making a business safer and therefore more attractive to current and prospective employees, right through to minimising legal risk.
For more information about this article, please contact the APodA HR Advisory Service on 1300 620 641 or firstname.lastname@example.org. A suite of online resources is also available for members 24 hours a day, seven days a week here.