Category: workplace health and safety

An active year for workplace safety

December 2016

As the year draws to a close, there is an opportunity to reflect on safety issues that have caught our attention in 2016. The move towards a fully harmonised safety regime across the country still seems a long way off. While Western Australia tabled a Bill in 2015 that contained the core provisions of the model WHS Act and sought public consultation this year, the process has since stalled. It does not seem that there will be any significant changes to that legislation next year. Victoria, also remains steadfast in maintaining its current laws despite there being some talk of a move the harmonised model. There has been a trend towards harmonisation through in the logistics industry. This results from the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) aligning itself with health and safety. These changes will mean executive officers are subject to a new primary duty of due diligence (rather than reasonable steps) to ensure that corporations comply with their Chain of Responsibility (CoR) duties. The extension of the new executive officer primary due diligence obligation to other safety provisions under the HVNL (beyond the core CoR mass, dimension, load restraint, speed and fatigue management provisions) is currently being considered. We also witnessed the demise of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and its safety-related orders. There has been an increase in the number of prosecutions commenced in 2016 compared to 2015 as well as an increase in the level of fines. There have also been charges brought under the WHS Act for the first time, including a charge relating to a breach of section 46 of the WHS Act, being the obligation to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate with other PCBUs. In that case, an organisation that employed and placed apprentices had not consulted with the host employer about the safety systems on site. We also saw the NSW Mining Safety regulator prosecuting a business and two individuals for Category 1 offences, being the most serious with the potential of custodial sentences for the individuals. The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal also stepped in to emphasise the importance of ensuring the safety of young workers, in a decision where the Court unanimously overturned the trial judge's decision to dismiss the charge against a company who caused injury to a work experience student, instead substituting it with a penalty of $240,000. Impeccable safety record In another decision, a different court considered that, while it had to impose an appropriate penalty for the objective seriousness of the offence, the penalty would be “significantly mitigated” by factors such as the business’ commitment to work health & safety. The Court found that the “impeccable safety record” of a business was a “good example to other PCBU’s performing high risk construction work” and took into account “compelling” subjective factors presented by the business to the Court in ultimately reducing the severity of the penalty it imposed. In terms of safety issues, unsafe plant continued to feature highly, most recently with the tragedy at Dreamworld. Falls from heights, workplace bullying and transport-related incidents also were prominent. Organisations also continued to face significant challenges in managing ill and injured employees in the workplace, including workers with mental health conditions. The Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of classification and labelling of chemicals is being introduced and organisations are also on high alert for the unwanted introduction of asbestos-containing products into their workplaces, such as what happened at the Children’s Hospital in Perth. And finally, the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) is on its way back, which will have implications for the construction industry, including the use of right of entry for safety reasons. In all, 2016 has been a very active year for safety, including a number of key legislative changes, increasing trends in prosecutions and fines as well as a greater focus for most organisations on identifying and removing key risks. Thank you for taking the time to read the Health & Safety Bulletins this year and I trust that you have a safe and enjoyable break over the holiday period. Looking forward to keeping you up to date in 2017.

Why it is worth self-insuring workers’ compensation

December 2015

You’re a safety conscious business with a great track record for looking after your workers’ wellbeing. You pride yourself on your high levels of safety and skills training to the point where you even self-insure your vehicle fleet and some plant equipment. But have you thought about self-insuring your workers’ compensation? Did you even know you could? Workplace Health & Safety Handbook Editor-in-Chief Michael Selinger from Holding Redlich reports that NSW currently is reviewing licensing arrangements for workers compensation in that State. And just like Portner Press publications, the reform is designed to make operating your business easier. Below is Michael's latest article.

Weighing up the benefits of self-insuring workers' compensation

Has your organisation ever considered looking at self-insurance for workers' compensation? If not, then it is always a good idea to keep these issues in mind.  That’s because there are significant benefits in managing your own workers’ compensation liability, particularly if you have a strong safety culture with an effective focus on return-to-work. Each State and Territory operates its own self-insurance scheme and there is also the Federal Comcare self-insurance scheme. Recently, that scheme has been opened up for more multi-State businesses to apply for coverage and earlier this year I wrote about the steps involved in that process. NSW has just released an issues paper for public comment as part of a review into workers’ compensation self-insurance licensing arrangements in that State.  If your business operates in NSW, it may be worth reviewing the issues paper, available at the WorkCover NSW website. The review is said to form part of an overall reform of licensing in NSW that is designed to reduce red tape and make it easier to do business. It is also a response to a 2014 review that recommended investigating the regulatory requirements of self-insurers to remove unnecessary documentation or expense. If you currently fall within the scheme, submissions are due by Monday, 14 December 2015. If you operate in another State or Territory, it is likely that similar reviews will be undertaken of the self-insurance schemes in those jurisdictions. There may be some important lessons taken from the NSW review. While there can be a significant financial undertaking to comply with the self-insurance requirements, it can also be an attractive scheme to participate in particularly if your business is a medium to large operation with likely ongoing business for the next decade or more. However, like all schemes that allow an individual enterprise to administer its own liability for workers’ compensation, there is a strong focus by the regulator to ensure that high standards are maintained. While this focus can mean your business is more closely scrutinised for compliance with the safety laws, equally it is a good driver for a business to look at how it can improve its safety and return-to-work performance. In an economic climate where the competitive advantage is becoming more critical, the move to self-insurance, coupled with a strong focus on quality safety management systems, provides a good opportunity for those businesses wishing to succeed and differentiate themselves from others. Often, good workers are attracted to safer workplaces if they are seeking a change. - Michael Selinger

What's next?

To find out more about the pros and cons of self-insuring your workers’ compensation, and gain a greater insight into practically every other health & safety issue you are likely to encounter in your workplace, click on the link to see how you can trial a copy of the Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook, compiled by Michael Selinger. Michael’s easy-to-understand articles, case studies, hints, tips and templates will help simplify your business and also help you to avoid costly mistakes associated with getting your health & safety requirements wrong.

Competency: Prove to me you can do it, safely

November 2015

I attended an industry panel discussion recently where the vexed question of verification of competency (VOC) was raised. Competency is a measure of proven skills and proven knowledge. VOC is a process where a business verifies the competency of a worker before allowing them to commence work.

It often arises in the context of high risk industries, like construction. It is a vexed issue because there are no consistent or approved criteria for verifying the competency of any particular worker.

In general terms, competency may be verified by:

Recognition of prior learning; On-site recognition of current competency; Training and development programs.

Most verification methods will always include a documented assessment. Although theoretical knowledge should be assessed in the classroom environment, it can also be conducted on the job through verbal questioning. On the other hand, assessing someone’s skills is usually conducted on the job via a test or simulation. Keeping records of this assessment is important.

Recognition of prior learning (RPL)

Many organisations will recognise prior learning as a valid way of verifying competency. This process is used to determine the worker’s experience and knowledge gained through training, whether formal or informal, and other work experience. This can be used for your workers if they are involved in undertaking repeated tasks or working on a particular piece of equipment for many years.

An organisation can also recognise current competency. This is a process where a person has previously been deemed to be competent or completed an assessment elsewhere which is still said to be current. A business might assume that the worker was competent before and is now required to be reassessed to ensure the maintenance of that competence.

The important aspects for this type of process is to ensure that any evidence given or assessed as part of that verification is actually current and authentic. Sometimes, this can be challenging.

Finally, an organisation might rely on gauging a worker’s competency through a training and development program, whether via a classroom environment or online. In either case, it is important that the components of the training the worker receives meet the criteria of competency for the particular task. Often these are conducted through a technical college with specific components. A worker has to demonstrate that they passed these components in order to be considered competent. Of course, you still will want to observe them perform the job for you when they start.

The VOC has taken greater significance ever since the safety regulators ceased issuing a number of operator licences. For example, front end loaders, excavators, scrapers, road rollers, and skid steer loaders. Now, the onus is now on the business to ensure that an operator of plant is competent.

Taking the above approaches into account, a business might rely on one or more of the following as evidence of competency:

A previous assessment of competency; A statement of attainment or other nationally-recognised qualification; Completed training at an industry training school or competency card from that industry; Evidence of on-the-job training by another experienced and competent person, along with log books.

With the ever-increasing focus on improving safety in the workplace, VOC has a significant role to play.

However, it is important to keep focus of the main purpose of VOC, which is to ensure the worker has adequate skills and expertise to undertake the task. This does not mean that there is a requirement for repeated VOC checks on experienced workers, so long as an organisation can demonstrate that it relied on credible and authentic evidence to establish the competency of the worker.

Warm regards,

Michael Selinger
Health & Safety Handbook

Be safe, be sure

Workplace health and safety is a broad church. Keeping abreast of all your legal responsibilities can be a huge challenge. That’s why Michael Selinger, a partner at Holding Redlich and WHS law expert, created the Health & Safety Handbook. It’s a fully comprehensive resource that covers extensively the subject of WHS and helps to simplify your business.

All hail the mature-age worker!

October 2015

I suggested to him that his quandary appeared at odds with much of the business world, which often viewed aged employees as a liability because of their failing health, their ‘old school’ thinking and their lack of technical skills.

Not true, he said. The only things wrong with these tradies was that their backs were ‘shot’ and their knees were ‘gone’ after 30 years of manual labour, but their minds were okay. And anyway, he joked, crawling around in roof spaces or under houses was why you hired apprentices.

These older guys were still good operators with plenty to give to the business, he said, adding that their value lay in the intellectual property they had built up over the past 30 or so years – their ability to think on their feet. He told me most of these older guys had faced every sort of problem that was still being thrown up today and that their younger counterparts might have the strength and agility but not the know-how needed to solve some of the complex problems as they arose.

So, what are you doing about it, I challenged.

He said he was offering them flexible working arrangements and trying to tempt them into staying by accommodating their needs, which wasn’t always easy, he explained. Some of them weren’t keen on the prospect of ‘being locked up in an office all day’ and, hence, wouldn’t be comfortable initially sitting behind a desk from 8am-4pm.

Others bought lawn-mowing rounds and were lost to the industry. But he’d maintained a couple of older workers as estimators because they could anticipate all the little things that could go wrong on a job and allowed for that in the quotes and tenders they prepared. Others he had lured to work part-time as mentors to the apprentices. And it was paying dividends … for everyone.

For his business, these tradies were good employees because many of them were only in their early 50s had paid off their mortgages so didn’t suffer from financial pressures, they rarely took a day off due to illness and because their kids were grown up, they weren’t having to stay home to look after them if they were sick or it was school holidays. Basically, he explained, they still wanted to come to work each day and contribute.

With an ageing workforce, mature-age workers will become the norm before too long in many industries. In the contract or labour sectors, early 50s might be considered as getting old. In your industry, early 60s might be more accurate. How do you accommodate these growing number of workers? How should you care for their workplace health and safety?

Your employees’ ability to work effectively is significantly affected by their work environment. For an ageing worker, it is critical that you make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the physical and mental changes associated with ageing.

Somethings that can be done to the make the workplace friendlier to mature-age workers:

Flexible hours or working from home options Trading salary for additional leave Improved ergonomics Different lighting levels Avoiding the necessity of using stairs in the workplace (different workplace location)

On 1 July 2014, the Australian Government launched the Restart Wage Subsidy program which pays businesses up to $10,000 that hire and retain mature-age workers. Is that something your company could benefit from? It might pay for or subsidise any workplace adjustments you need to make.

But on the flip side, what if you no longer believe the mature-age worker is capable of doing their job? What is your next step? The last thing you need is an age-related discrimination, bullying or harassment suit having over your head.

To find answers to these and other questions surrounding how to keep older workers engaged and safe at work, purchase a copy of the Health & Safety Handbook. Written by Editor-in-Chief Michael Selinger, a legal expert in Health & Safety law, the handbook has checklists, tips and advice surrounding mature-age workers.

It helps you train your managers in preventative and remedial measures that assist ageing workers before an incident or injury occurs.

Keep up the good work,

Jeff Salton
Editor, Health & Safety Bulletin

Are you taking mental health in the workplace seriously?

September 2015

Mental health languished in the shadows for a long time when it came to Australian business culture.

Maybe it’s the ‘macho’ nature that some industries were traditionally known for. Or maybe it was the sense that being on top of all of your other health and safety obligations was enough of a challenge without worrying about whether a worker seemed a little down in the mouth.

Whatever held things back, they’re changing fast – and they’re changing in the places where you’d least expect.

We were pleasantly surprised to see the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) issue its first blueprint for mental health earlier this month.

Coming on the back of a wealth of quantitative research about the prevalence of depression, alcohol or substance abuse and gambling addiction amongst Australia’s geographically isolated mineral sector workers, the MCA read the tea leaves.

And they realised this impacted more than one bottom line. It triggered their health and safety obligations in an environment where poor mental health could lead to serious physical accidents in a blink of an eye.

It was a bad ‘look’, reputation-wise, for a sector that’s trying to rebrand itself in the public eye.

And more than this, it was terrible for efficiency and productivity.

I was chatting over a drink with a fly-in fly-out drilling worker the other night, a friend of a friend. He’s been in the game about 5 years, and there’s been a lot of training that’s gone into getting him where he is. He’s a tough nut to crack, but also knows how to take care of his own wellbeing.

But he can’t think of anyone he started out with who hasn’t burnt out and left since. What does this high turnover mean for the hundreds and thousands spent on developing worker skills?

They can do it, and so can you

The MCA blueprint is about solutions, not handwringing.

Your own ‘blueprint’ for tackling mental health issues should be the same.

As I’ve mentioned before, Health & Safety Handbook Editor-in-Chief Michael Selinger has been developing a full and user-friendly guide to these matters. And it’s finally ready for release.

Next week, we’re proud to be releasing his Mental Health e-Book – a guide that lets you in on some of the best ways to recognise mental health issues in the workplace, and sensitive, lawful ways to address them.

Read on below, as Michael talks about the lay of the land in workplace mental health in this country right now – and offers up a great preliminary checklist of the potential risk factors in your workplace.

World Mental Health Day: Is Your Business A World Leader, or A Lagger?

World Mental Health Day is coming up on Saturday, October 10 2015, and it presents the perfect opportunity for your business to consider what steps it can take to improve its organisational understanding of mental health problems – and what to do about them.

The impact of mental health problems in the workplace is now well-established. Not only do affected individuals face a range of challenges in participating fully in the workplace, but the organisation also sees an impact on levels of productivity and absenteeism - both from affected staff, and those around them.

In a study of over 12,000 Australian employees, only one fifth of full-time workers were receiving treatment for their mental health problems. Others may simply utilise extended and significant periods of sick leave.

The thing is, personal leave alone would not be sufficient for a worker to recover from a serious physical illness. Generally, they would need to seek medical assistance.

The situation with mental illness is much the same. It is never certain that workers will see the symptoms improve with time off alone. In fact, the stress of absenteeism may prove detrimental to their wellbeing. A molehill can become a mountain quickly.

To encourage workers to seek treatment is therefore a positive step your business can take and one that meets your WHS obligation to ensure the health and wellbeing of your staff.

Reducing the impact of mental health problems

The two key ways in which your business can reduce the impact of mental health problems in the workplace are:

1.       Take positive steps to remove any stigma and fear of workplace discrimination that a worker may have if they have mental health problems. Removing these fears will encourage workers to seek treatment for their condition.

2.       Put in place mechanisms that allow for effective early intervention. For example, having an Employee Assistance Program can assist employees showing signs of a mental illness to seek assistance and prevent their condition from deteriorating.

One area that some businesses are now considering is more effective training for managers to assist them in being able to detect the early signs and symptoms of a developing mental health problem.

The purpose of this training is to give the manager the ability to offer early assistance and support while the staff member seeks professional assistance.

In some businesses, these managers receive dedicated training, essentially as “mental health first aid officers”.

The benefit of these trained co-workers is that they can also play a pivotal role in educating the rest of your organisation about mental health issues.

Checklist: Handling Mental Health Issues At Work

With a simple checklist, you can quickly assess whether your organisation is prepared to handle the issue of mental illness:

are your managers and other staff able to understand the early signs of anxiety and depression? Does your workplace have an employee assistance program? Do you implement the use of peer support programs or mentoring to assist in managing mental health issues? Does your workplace foster a climate of respect and resilience to support those with mental illness as well as combat workplace bullying? Is there access to counselling services? Are you leaders “emotionally intelligent” when it comes to the issue of mental illness? Do you offer flexible work practices?

Keep your workplace safe

You also need to ensure that your organisation does not expose workers to the risk of mental health problems.

Make sure your organisation manages and controls issues such as:

high levels of pressure lack of involvement by staff in decision making unclear work roles job insecurity long working hours bullying poor communication inadequate resources

These factors can add to the risk of mental health conditions developing in your workforce.

In the same way that tangible dangers like plant, chemicals and working at heights present health and safety risks that need managing, aspects of your business to present a risk to psychological health and safety.

As you would with those tangible hazards, you should be sure to implement proper controls to remove these risks.

I’ve enjoyed dedicating time in recent months to developing a comprehensive resource for Australian workplaces that need help developing their own solutions to this issue.

So keep an eye out for the Mental Health eBook next week. I look forward to hearing your feedback, and about your workplace’s own experiences.

Warm regards,

Michael Sellinger
Health & Safety Handbook

Mindfulness: The new buzzword in health and safety – and what it means for you…

July 2015

Dear Reader,

Mindfulness. The word’s gained increasing currency when we discuss mental health and wellbeing, but it’s also a word that conjures up images of meditation circles and chanting. Mindfulness is airy-fairy, but a lot of health and safety obligations are about getting down to the nitty-gritty. Right?

So why have Safe Work Australia released their findings into “Mindfulness of work health and safety in the workplace” this month?

It’s because leading health and safety professionals have developed a practical, meaningful concept of what mindfulness in the workplace looks like in recent years.

Toward a ‘mindful’ health and safety culture

When we talk about mindfulness in health and safety, we’re looking at a way of developing an environment where employers and workers alike are continually conscious and aware of those factors that could cause injury or harm.

It’s not news that developing an organisational culture in the workplace where health and safety is seen as “everyone’s responsibility” is more important than just having a set of rules workers are ordered to follow.

On a day to day basis, mindfulness in the workplace involves workers actively considering risks, priorities and next steps as they are performing their current tasks. Far from zoning out and being at one with the universe, it’s exactly what most employers would want their workers to be doing!

Across an organisation, mindfulness can be broken down into four processes:

Preoccupation with failure

Mindful preoccupation with failure doesn’t mean being pessimistic about your work or your business. In Safe Work Australia’s report, they describe it as “a healthy alertness and lively awareness of the possibility of errors and failures” in an organisation.

Another way to think about it is always being vigilant – workers are vigilant in their current task, and employers are vigilant about the broader health and safety risks they control – from workplace stress, to new contractors, to procurement matters.

Reluctance to simplify

Everyone knows that some procedures in the workplace are time-consuming and complex. In health care and social assistance sectors, it can feel like some of the requirements on a patient care form are just tick box exercises. In construction and mining, a pre-work vehicle check might seem like lost minutes – the thing was fine yesterday!

But a mindful organisation is reluctant to simplify – it recognises that the most inefficient thing it can do is cut corners and lead to a major health and safety accident.

It socialises its workers to recognise the reasons why some processes need to be complex, and embrace them.

It will make the development of safe operating procedures (see more about how to develop these here) a priority, and not a ‘nice to have’.

Sensitivity to operations

Sensitivity to operations is similar to a reluctance to simplify. The Safe Work Australia describes this as the way a mindful organisation pays vigilant attention to every detail, regardless of how seemingly insignificant it may be in day-to-day operations.

Think about healthcare again, in a rest home context. One day, a nurse or carer notices an older person has cold hands, and a glassy, staring expression. No big deal, he thinks – older people have bad circulation and ‘senior moments’ all the time.

So he doesn’t bother saying anything to his manager, so as not to be a bother. No one bothers to keep monitoring the patient – and what seemed like ordinary symptoms have become meningitis 24 hours later.

Sensitivity to operations means that workers (even at a low level) are encouraged to report things and speak up. And it means that senior managers and employers need to remain as aware as possible of the current state of their wards, shop floors, or sites.

Commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise

This last element of mindfulness is about what happens in those situations where it’s hardest to be mindful. It could be that an error has developed that could critically damage plant. It could be that a contagious infection is spreading through a care home.

Or it could be that someone has already been injured, and action must be taken to manage the situation.

In these situations, commitment to resilience and deference to expertise are about flexibility. It may be that business as usual stops, and workers leave their usual roles to support each other and help solve a problem.

Alternatively, the usual lines of management might break down temporarily and the individual with the most knowledge may take responsibility in the situation.

Let’s look at that instance where a piece of plant has developed a critical fault. Isn’t it the right time to hand over some of the decision-making to whichever worker is responsible for – and knows most about – its operating and maintenance?

What the Fair Work Australia study showed

The Fair Work Australia report assessed data from its Perceptions of Work Health and Safety Survey 2012 to assess Australian employers, employees, sole trader/contractors and health & safety professionals, using three mindfulness criteria:

Preoccupation with failure; Sensitivity to operations; and ‘What businesses count on’, a series of statements designed to assess overall mindfulness.

It indicated that sole traders working as labourers tended to display higher levels of mindfulness across all the criteria. In a way, this makes sense – if you’re your own source of income and labour, you’re hopefully going to be more aware of the risks and dangers around you.

Surprisingly, employers operating in the health care and social assistance sector tended to have the lowest levels of mindfulness compared to other industries.

Crucially, less than half of these employers indicated that their business spends time identifying how its activities could potentially harm workers, compared to around 80% of employers in the manufacturing, transport and construction sectors.

The good news is that a majority of workers across all sectors agreed that they were encouraged to report significant mistakes and talk to superiors about problems – in a ‘good way’, they’re preoccupied with failure!

It’s not the law – but it is a strategy

Australia’s health and safety laws aren’t unduly prescriptive. In other words, an inspector won’t turn up and fine you on the spot for insufficient preoccupation with failure.

But organisational mindfulness is one way to foster a culture in your business that makes for consistent, proactive compliance with the law.

And if the regulators are thinking about mindfulness, it’s a great way to be one step ahead. Ask yourself which of the processes I described today are in place in your business – and if not, what you need to do to kick them off.

Correction: In last Thursday’s Health and Safety Bulletin, we talked about the responsibilities of PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) when it came to union rights of entry.

Unfortunately, a typo instead read ‘Persons in charge of a business or undertaking’. We apologise for the error – consider it another small but valuable lesson in mindfulness.

Take care,
Joseph Nunweek
Editor, Health & Safety Bulletin

Are You Meeting Your Obligations for Safe Workplace Design?

May 2015

Which of these systems sounds the most cost-effective to you: a fence at the top of the cliff, or an ambulance at the bottom?

If you said the former, you’ve probably got a better eye for workplace design than you’ve given yourself credit for. It’s usually more practical and more cost-effective to eliminate hazards in the workplace during the design and planning phases.

On the other hand, it’s usually a lot harder and more expensive to make changes once you’re already stuck with particular plant, equipment or layout.

It’s a major contributor to workplace injuries and illnesses, too. Some poor design will cause progressive impairments. Examples include work design that continuously exposes a worker to unsafe volumes and leads to industrial deafness, or that leads workers to develop repetitive strain injury through awkward movements or postures.

But some poor design will cause critical incidents, with devastating results.

Health & Safety Handbook Editor-in-Chief Michael Selinger has been speaking to health & safety officers and duty-holders about workplace design recently, and he pointed me towards a Safe Work Australia report that evaluated the nationwide fatalities caused by unsafely designed plant, machinery and powered tools over a five-year period.

The report’s very informative, but it makes for some seriously upsetting reading.

All in all, it concludes that 188 deaths in Australian workplaces between 2006 and 2011 were assessed to be definitely or possibly design-related.

Below, Michael talks about some of the existing challenges in ensuring safe work design, as well as the nature of the obligations and duties different parties have to provide that safe design.

This month, he’s also co-authored a revised and expanded chapter of the Health & Safety Handbook which covers the same topic (Chapter W4, to be precises). If you’re about to modify an existing workplace, or looking to purchase new plant or equipment, it’s a good place to begin.

Take care,
Joseph Nunweek
Editor, Health & Safety Handbook

Are you meeting your obligations for safe workplace design?

By Michael Selinger
Editor-in-Chief, Health & Safety Handbook

Dear Reader,

I recently presented at a seminar on the topic of workplace design, and it struck me that most workplaces fail to adequately consider how design can impact on the safety of their workforce.

On the one hand, you have designers who feel that even if their design was safe, they have no way of controlling how the end user might operate their design.

On the other, you have end users who feel that some designers haven’t provided sufficient assistance in the commissioning of the design, or failed to consider all aspects of the likely daily use of the design.

This raises a big question to anyone with health and safety duties: to what extent does your business place enough emphasis on safe design?

Poor design: dangerous and deadly

The risks posed to workers from poorly designed plant and equipment have been known for many years. A report released by Safe Work Australia last year which examined the cause of over 500 fatalities found that nearly 36% of the fatalities were either definitely or possibly design-related.

The report relied on findings by police, prosecutors and coroners that poor design was the cause of the fatality - or that there were design solutions that may have prevented the fatality if applied earlier.

In a lot of cases these were simple design modifications that could have been used to save the workers' life. These included proper guarding, seat belts, residual current devices, use of interlocks or better driver vision.

What do you need to do as a person in charge?

So what can your organisation do to better improve the safety of its workers through design?

Firstly, it's important to understand that design and safety are an ongoing process. If you introduce new equipment to your organisation, you’ve got to understand how its design is meant to protect the safety of your workers.

You have an obligation to make sure that you have received adequate information from the designer so that the equipment can be installed and operated safely by your workers. In some cases this may mean ongoing dialogue with the designer or supplier to make sure that the equipment will be safe for use. An effective procurement policy will assist you in this regard.

On the other hand, if you are currently involved in rearranging the way in which work is undertaken in your organisation, then you are effectively modifying the design of your workplace. In that case, it is important to consider how the redesign of your organisations might introduce new hazards or risks of injury to your workers.

Finally, if you’re the designer responsible for designing plant or structures that will be used in a workplace, then you must take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that your design is safe for use.

This doesn’t just mean ensuring that the machine is safe while it’s operational. You need to plan for the whole life cycle of the design, including any repair or maintenance, as well as the eventual decommissioning of the plant or structure.

This requires you to really think carefully about the kinds of use your design might be subject to in a workplace.

If you need more information on safe design in the workplace, the Health and Safety Handbook was recently updated with a brand-new chapter on Workplace Design, Modification and Purchasing. It’s a great primer to a sometimes challenging process, with the basics you need to ensure you’re legally compliant.

Michael Sellinger
Health & Safety Handbook

How to Respond to a Notifiable Incident – 3 Important Steps

November 2014

[Ed Note: A safety incident has just occurred at your workplace. What happens next? This question is often asked by businesses which are in the unfortunate position of having to deal with and respond to a serious safety incident. It is important to be prepared now in case such an incident happens.

In today’s Health & Safety Bulletin, Michael Selinger will outline the important steps you must take immediately after a safety incident occurs, including securing the worksite and notifying the health and safety regulator of a notifiable incident.

What is a notifiable incident?

A notifiable incident is one involving a serious injury, illness or death of a worker, or a dangerous incident (also called a near miss).

A person has suffered a serious injury or illness if they require:

immediate treatment as an inpatient in a hospital; medical treatment within 48 hours of exposure to a substance; or immediate treatment for: the amputation of any body part; a serious head, eye or burn injury; the separation of skin from an underlying tissue (such as degloving or scalping); a spinal injury; or a serious laceration.

A dangerous incident includes:

uncontrolled spillage or leakage of a hazardous substance; an implosion, explosion or fire; an electric shock; any plant, substance or thing falling from a height; the collapse, overturning, failure or malfunction of any plant that must be authorised for use; the collapse or partial collapse of a structure or excavation; the inrush of water, mud or gas in an underground tunnel or excavation; or the interruption of the main system of ventilation in an underground tunnel or excavation.

Read on to discover what to do if any safety incidents, including one of the incidents listed above, occur in your workplace.

Until next time...]

3 important steps to take in response to a workplace incident

Once an incident occurs at your workplace, you need to take all reasonable steps to attend to any injured workers, secure the worksite and report the incident to your health and safety regulator.

Attend to injured workers

The first critical step after an incident has occurred is usually to attend to the medical needs of anyone who has been injured. In most cases, first aiders will be able to determine if a worker’s injury is severe enough to require external medical attention.

It’s important to remember that even if a worker claims to be fine and able to continue working, it is best not to rely on the worker’s personal assessment. First aiders are trained to assess the mobility of injured workers and can give the employer a fair idea as to the seriousness of the worker’s condition.

Secure the worksite

Sometimes before attending to the injured worker it may be necessary to secure the worksite in order to avoid further risks of injury, including to the injured worker. For example, if the worker is trapped under a structure and it is not clear whether the structure will collapse, securing it might take precedence over attending to the immediate health needs of the worker.

This might not always be practicable. For example, it might not be possible to access the injured worker until the area is made safe, e.g. if there has been a chemical release into the environment. You should also be aware that in some cases, moving the structure could cause further harm to the injured person. 

After taking care of any injured worker’s needs and securing the worksite, you may need to provide appropriate care and possibly counselling for other workers who might have been affected by the incident.

Report the notifiable incident

You must notify the safety regulator immediately by telephone and, if requested, also in writing within 48 hours of the incident. If you are not sure whether the incident is a ‘notifiable incident’, still notify the regulator.

The safety regulator will decide whether to send an inspector to an incident site within about one hour of being notified of the incident, and inspectors generally visit the workplace within an hour after that.

Next week I’ll explain the powers of health and safety inspectors once they are onsite, including the power to issue improvement or prohibition notices which must be complied with.

Warm regards,

Michael Selinger
Health & Safety Handbook

Safety month – why should you get involved?

October 2014

[Ed Note: October is Safe Work Australia Month and throughout Australia organisations are taking the opportunity to focus on promoting the importance of safe practices in the workplace.

In today’s Health & Safety Bulletin, Michael Selinger will outline some of the events put on in each jurisdiction throughout this month and how you can help to promote health and safety within your business.

Why should you get involved in safety month?

This month represents a great opportunity to become actively involved in health and safety, whether by attending one of the numerous events held throughout the country or by hosting your own health and safety event within your business.

If you are an officer of your organisation, you will also be demonstrating that you are exercising due diligence if you become actively involved in any of these initiatives.

Be rewarded for health and safety

This year, just by getting involved in safety month, your business has the opportunity to win a participation reward. The winning workplace will demonstrate that they are enthusiastic about health and safety through their participation, creativity and sustainability.

The winner will receive a prize pack valued at $5,000 for the opportunity to attend one work health and safety conference, expo or event held in Australia in 2015. The prize covers the cost of registration, return economy airfares, accommodation and transport to and from the event.

To be eligible for the reward you must register a safety ambassador from your workforce for Safe Work Australia Month and then complete the entry form.

Depending on your jurisdiction, you may also be eligible for other rewards and prizes.

Just before I go…

A safe operating procedure is a written document that provides step-by-step instructions on how to safely perform a task or activity in the workplace.

Not only will it help you minimise the risk of injury to your workers, it will also demonstrate your commitment to improving safety in your workplace.

Click here to find out how to go about developing a safe operating procedure for your business.

Enjoy your week! ]

Safety events in each State and Territory

Throughout the month of October, all safety regulators will be hosting events in their jurisdictions, as outlined below.


In Queensland there will be an employer breakfast seminar series as well as a return to work conference, expo and awards night held in Brisbane on 23 October 2014.

South Australia

SA will be focusing on Safe Work Week between 27–31 October 2014 with a question and answer panel of experts and free information sessions throughout the week.

New South Wales

NSW will be hosting numerous events, including a SafeWork awards ceremony and a presentation on how WorkCover has helped to improve health and safety in the farming industry.


Victoria will host a health and safety week between 20–31 October with a variety of seminars and presentations held throughout the period.

Western Australia

In WA, Safe Work October will include a number of safety and health workshops, as well as a safety award breakfast presentation.


In Tasmania, safe work events will be held at numerous locations between 29 September and 31 October.

Australian Capital Territory

In the ACT, the theme for this year’s safety month is safety leadership and a number of workshops and events will be centred around this theme.

Northern Territory

Safe Work Week in the NT runs between 26 October and 1 November with advice given to businesses and workers on how to maintain health and safety in the workplace.

A full list of contacts for activities in each State and Territory for safety month can be found here.

Virtual seminar series

Safe Work Australia (SWA), the federal agency that developed the harmonised safety laws, is also promoting a virtual seminar series which can be accessed throughout the month.

The keynote speaker for the SWA series is Professor Patrick Hudson. Professor Hudson is a well-known British psychologist with extensive experience in safety management in a variety of high-risk industries. His presentation and focus is on improving the safety culture of organisations.

How can you get involved?

It is important for all managers, supervisors and officers of your business to take the opportunity of safety month to promote your business’s safety culture. It is through the leadership shown by these people in your business that you can achieve a better safety outcome.

Some ideas for safety month you can implement in your business include: hosting a morning tea focused on safety; conducting a safety workshop; hosting a session with a guest speaker on safety; distributing information about your business’s commitment to an excellent safety culture; or launching a new health and wellbeing initiative.

Warm regards,

Michael Selinger
Health & Safety Handbook

Getting started: How to develop a health and wellbeing program

March 2014

[Ed note: In Tuesday’s Health & Safety Bulletin we began to look at what health and wellbeing programs are and how they can benefit your business – today we have part 2 of that bulletin. Michael Selinger looks more closely at what is involved in health and wellbeing programs and… Health and wellbeing programs can be a great tool to use to reduce workplace health and safety risks that your workers may be under, including those relating to mental health. The next Health & Safety Handbook update will include a chapter about mental health in the workplace which will look into this in more detail, and talk about other ways to reduce mental illness risks in your workplace. So if you are a subscriber to the Health & Safety Handbook, look out for that update in your mail or email. Plus, you can get $87 off your annual subscription today - click here to find out more!]

Health and wellbeing programs – what are they and do they work? Part 2

You might be asking what a health and wellbeing program looks like… And the answer is that they always look different. The nature of your workplace and the work tasks you workers carry out will dictate what type of health and wellbeing program you need. On top of that, the kinds of resources you have available to put into the program will make a huge difference. For example, a small company will not have the same resources to put into its program as a large company will. 3 important things to do before developing your health and wellbeing program are: DEFINE your objectives: consider what you want the program to achieve. DETERMINE the target audience: consider who the program is for. Will it be all staff or only certain groups? ESTABLISH the tone of the program: will it be informative? Fun? Direct or indirect? You will also need to ensure that there is support from the management team to ensure that your workers see that the initiative is supported. Other things to consider when developing your health and wellbeing program include: what informal programs or groups are already in operation and look to see how these can be incorporated into the health and wellbeing program; and get a sense of expectations from the staff as to what they consider will assist them by holding meetings or surveys. Once you have these foundations determined, tailor a program that fits with the goals of your company, as well as the nature of your workforce – this will lead to an effective and appropriate program being developed. Remember, once the program is developed you need to implement and follow through with it – prove to your workers that you care and you will see it in their performance and attitude.

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