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Ensuring Workplace Health and Safety

Why It’s Good For Business

 

 

The second industrial revolution, as a result of the wide implementation of new information technologies, automation, biotechnologies, new production methods and materials and the development of low impact, low energy, and low waste industry, has generally had a positive impact on occupational health and safety, particularly in industrialised countries.  Some new problems in relation to workers’ health have, however, been identified.  In addition, new patterns of employment and new types of work organisation continue to emerge.  Ensuring workers’ health and safety during times of change is a key factor in the success and sustainability of that change.

 

(World Health Organisation Collaborating Centres in Occupational Health)

 

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Each year, in Australia, 650 000 employees suffer a work-related injury or illness, and 3 000 die as a result (including from diseases caused by exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace years previously).  The total cost of these work-related injuries and illnesses is estimated at $30 billion per year, a significant proportion of which is borne by employers through medical costs, legal costs, and / or worker’s compensation premiums. 

 

The Workplace Health and Safety Act (1995) requires that employers ensure the health and safety of workers and others who may be affected in or by their workplaces. 

 

The results of failure to ensure workplace health and safety range from minor inconvenience to major consequences, including:

 

·         employee discomfort, injury, illness, disease or death (also psychological and / or lifestyle impacts for the employee and / or their family);

·         absenteeism;

·         low morale (of the individual employee, the work team, or across the whole workplace);

·         reduced productivity and, therefore, profit;

·         high medical, legal and / or worker’s compensation expenses;

·         negative impact on corporate image (eg: as an employer of choice, or with customers and / or shareholders).

 

Injuries or illnesses an employee may experience in the workplace, or as a result of exposure to the workplace, include:

 

·         occupational overuse injuries (eg: RSI, tendonitis, etc);

·         manual handling injuries;

·         burns;

·         slip, trip, or fall injuries;

·         crushing or cutting injuries;

·         illnesses (including diseases) resulting from exposure to hazardous substances;

·         injuries resulting from exposure to excessive noise, vibration, or extremes of temperature;

·         psychological (eg: stress-related) illnesses.

 

Unhealthy or unsafe workplaces may be identified by:

 

·         high accident, injury or illness rates;

·         unsafe systems of work (eg: use of short cuts, failure to use appropriate safety precautions / equipment, etc);

·         poor housekeeping (eg: an untidy or unclean workplace, improperly maintained equipment, etc);

·         inadequate training and / or supervision of employees;

·         lack of knowledge of workplace health and safety obligations, principles and practices by managers, supervisors, and / or employees.

 

Employers’ duty of care to ensure the health and safety of all individuals affected by their workplace extends beyond employees to customers / clients, contractors, volunteers / work experience students, visitors, and members of the community outside of the workplace boundaries who may nonetheless be affected by a workplace health and safety incident on site (eg: collapse of a structure, fire, explosion, production of toxic fumes / dust, etc).

 

To ensure a healthy and safe workplace, employers should:

 

·         identify what and how work is performed (by looking at tasks or elements of tasks individually, rather than as ‘a means to an end’);

·         assess the risk associated with each task (by considering the range, level, and likelihood of risk);

·         reduce the risk (by restructuring the task, utilising new or different equipment or processes, training or supervising employees more effectively, employing safety equipment or mechanisms, etc).

 

The workplace health and safety goal of all employers should be to identify and minimise (or, if possible, remove) risk associated with activities undertaken in their workplace.  To successfully achieve this goal, employers need to:

 

·         ensure that all work processes are safe to employees who perform them, and to others in and around the workplace;

·         ensure that employee selection, induction, training and supervision are informed by health and safety considerations;

·         ensure that workplace health and safety precautions (eg: regular risk assessments; use of safety equipment; training in, and promotion of, safe work practices; development of, and training in, effective emergency protocols, etc) are taken;

·         ensure that the workplace and its equipment is regularly and effectively monitored and maintained to ensure it remains safe.

 

 

Although ensuring a healthy and safe workplace is not without cost, that cost is small relative to the cost of a serious workplace health and safety incident.  As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure!

 

 

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By Trevor Neville, Principal, and Kirsten Ferguson (Human Resource Management Consultant), TranZition Professional and Executive Recruitment, Level 3 Waterfront Place, 1 Eagle Street, Brisbane Qld 4000. Email: trevor@tranzition.com.au  Web: www.tranzition.com.au

 

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