October is National Safe Work Month, meaning it’s the ideal time to re-assess your current workplace safety policies.
What could be better than to hear that there has been a record low in the number of workplace deaths, according to Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) latest report on workplace safety for 2015? Last year, 195 workers were fatally injured at work. Even that figure isn’t acceptable. But it is a big decrease from 2007, when 307 died – the highest number recorded by SWA.
Almost half (47 per cent) of the employee fatalities last year occurred within the transport, postal and warehousing, and agriculture, forestry and fishing industries.
Across the 13 years that the series of reports covers, two thirds of worker fatalities involved a vehicle – 115 in 2015. And most of the victims were men.
While you’re most likely not reading this from your tractor in a field, or a forklift in a warehouse, no matter where you work, it’s easy to see how the pressures of daily process within a business can see management neglect workplace safety.
“A key barrier is the perceived or actual cost of making workplace safety and health the top priority,” explains a spokesperson at Safe Work Australia.
Issues about the barriers to organisations keeping on top of workplace safety remains one of the “important ongoing questions for Safe Work Australia.” And while there are no easy answers, their research points to some common problems that lead to injury or fatalities and how to prevent them.
First point is an inadequate investment in workplace safety training and an over-reliance on personal protective equipment.
One of the problems is that workers and managers might not be fully aware of all of the hazards or risky behaviours in their place of work. This is most common in small businesses where there is less oversight and adherence to the rules.
So what are some practical things that HR managers can do to create a strong workplace safety culture?
Safe Work Australia shares these recommendations:
- Ensuring work health and safety is a key component of staff induction processes and procedures.
- Encouraging staff to identify and report hazards in the workplace.
- Regular reviews of the workplace conducted by official staff (i.e. health and safety representative and the WHS officer).
- Committees and officials such as HSRs are appointed and recognised as important parts of the safety system in the workplace.
- Ensuring executives are kept up to date with workplace incidents and mitigations/actions taken.
- Ensuring workplace health and safety is a standing agenda item at branch and section meetings.
- Making all staff aware of who they can talk to about workplace safety (e.g. WHS Officer, Harassment Contact Officer and Health and Safety Representative).
- Making sure all staff are aware of the employee assistance program and what they are entitled to.
Some ways to integrate training, education and workshops include:
- E-learning modules that are self-paced can be mandated for some of these topics.
- WHS notice boards containing information about workplace health and safety initiatives can be put up in lunch rooms.
- Regular emergency evacuation procedures are conducted.
- Courses such as first aid and emergency training can be included in an employee’s performance development agreement.
Safe Work Australia has published a code of practice called How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks, which outlines the steps a business should take.