Workplace health and safety is an issue that many HR professionals would prefer to leave well alone and leave to those in risk management or front line management roles. After all, it is just a matter of compliance isn’t it? Comply with legislation, comply with internal policies and procedures=safe workplace and management of financial and legal risk. Simple.
Unfortunately not. For an organisation to succeed in implementing its workplace health and safety program, HR has an essential role to play. Here are 10 aspects of HR which have a vital role in the success of any WHS program.
1. Job design
Aspects of job design such as workload, rostering, shift work, clarity of reporting relationships and direction, supervision and more have a critical role in the prevention of workplace injury. Physical injuries can be minimised through consideration of ergonomics, repetitiveness and physical exertion of tasks in resourcing planning.
2. Organisational culture
Developing a safety first culture requires moving beyond the pathological and reactive practices of the past to a proactive and generative culture of safety. WH&S systems have a key role in facilitating this change, but senior management and HR play a key role in driving the culture of an organization away from the pathological and reactive, towards one which is proactive and generative.
3. Recruitment and selection
Recruitment and selection can assist in the prevention of workplace injury and illness in several ways. Firstly, it is essential that all successful candidates identify with and can demonstrate a commitment to safe work practices. Including WHS questions in interviews and safety psychometric testing are examples of ways employers can do this.
4. Performance management
Linking WHS to performance management processes including appraisals, reward and recognition, performance standards and performance recovery, ensures that workplace health and safety is taken seriously by all and that safe work practices are not abandoned in the inevitable focus on meeting other business objectives.
Statistics show that new employees are the most likely to be injured, therefore it is essential that safety information specific to a role is provided as early as possible. This can be prior to commencement or immediately upon commencement. This information should include information regarding policies and procedures relevant to the role, and also a practical induction into specific safety equipment, practices or risks that may exist in their new role.
6. Training and development
Successfully meeting WHS legal obligations includes ensuring that employees are provided with instruction and training relevant to their role. This may include training on specific policies, procedures, tasks or equipment, and can also include ensuring that employees who are required to, possess the relevant licenses or qualifications.
7. Absenteeism management
Absenteeism data can tell you a lot about an organisation, and work units within it. High absenteeism may indicate low job satisfaction, physically or mentally taxing job demands, or conflict between employees or managers. Each of these issues has the potential to lead to workplace injury or illness if not effectively addressed. The way that absenteeism is managed in an organisation can also affect OH&S performance.
8. Health and wellbeing
Employee health and well-being programs can potentially have the (perhaps unintentional) benefit of reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. Increased awareness of physical and mental health can increase commitment to safe work practices, and safety culture generally. Physical conditioning associated with exercise programs can improve posture, improve work tolerance and strength and assist in relieving workplace stress.
9. Working conditions and amenities
Employers are required to provide and maintain a minimal level of facilities for the welfare of workers such as access to first aid and amenities such as clean drinking water and washing facilities. The increase in the incidence of working from home arrangements also creates a requirement for employers to ensure that the home workplace meets the above criteria, is generally safe and comfortable and does not pose an additional risk of injury to the employee.
10. HR policies and procedures
HR policies and procedures such as codes of conduct, bullying, harassment, and discrimination, alcohol and drug use, smoking and grievance reporting cross over into the area of WHS. Breaches of these policies and or procedures have the potential to result in workplace injury and workers compensation claims.
Christina Willcox MHSc; PostGradDIp OHS; BBus is the workplace health & safety specialist for HR Business Direction.