Jurisdiction road map: National Safe Work Month 2020

By Dr Joseph Brennan, Editor, Safety Solutions
Monday, 28 September, 2020

Jurisdiction road map: National Safe Work Month 2020

October is National Safe Work Month, and there was a clear choice for this year’s national theme: the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We detail the national initiatives, but also delve into activities at a state and territory level, to explore the Australia-wide plan this October to promote work health and safety, through COVID-19 and beyond.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) has led the National Safe Work Month (NSWM) campaign since 2009, with businesses, employers and workers from across Australia taking part each October to build awareness of work health and safety (WHS). The inevitability of this year’s theme — ‘WHS through COVID-19’, announced by SWA in July — speaks to the profound impact that this once-in-100-year event has had on us all. The theme was “chosen to reflect the significant impact of COVID-19 on all Australian workplaces”, SWA Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter told me. “The campaign and theme continue Safe Work Australia’s work in recent months to lead a focused and nationally consistent approach to WHS during COVID-19.

“What we’ve seen through the COVID-19 pandemic is just how important work health and safety is,” Baxter said. “All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.” In recognition of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, this year’s national campaign has a digital focus, with the NSWM website (www.safeworkmonth.swa.gov.au) acting as the central hub for campaign resources and tools. The digitally focused campaign kit resources are inclusive of web graphics, social media tiles and customisable document templates, designed to appeal to a range of organisations and industries.

The resources can be customised and shared with work teams, supervisors and health and safety representatives. Workplaces can also follow SWA on social media, to keep up to date throughout the month, and are encouraged to use the hashtags #safeworkmonth and #safetytogether when promoting NSWM across social media. The NSWM campaign is led by SWA in consultation with its members, including representatives from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, unions and employer organisations. SWA members, I was told, were consulted throughout the development of the theme and collateral.

“The national campaign,” Baxter explained, “is supported through local communication activities and initiatives led by the WHS jurisdictions.” To better understand what initiatives and resources are running in each Australian jurisdiction this October, we embark on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction roundup. As our tour uncovers, in some cases the national theme is carried through clearly, while other jurisdictions take October as an opportunity to spotlight more particular, though aligned, WHS concerns. The roundup helps bring to light the work being done at the state and territory levels, and the various avenues available to all responsible for WHS to get involved and help us, together, advance WHS through COVID-19.

For more information on SWA’s 2020 NSWM, visit www.safeworkmonth.swa.gov.au.

Australian Capital Territory

WorkSafe ACT WHS Commissioner Jacqueline Agius sees NSWM as “a chance to highlight the importance of workplace safety to a range of employers across all industries”. The ACT will align with the national theme, which, in its jurisdiction, “acknowledges the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on ACT businesses, employers and workers”. The regulator will also be engaging with industry stakeholders, offering a range of information supports around key topics relating to COVID-19 and other WHS matters throughout October. Agius stresses that “WorkSafe ACT’s approach to NSWM will also consider the strategic priorities within [its] jurisdiction, including occupational violence and dust diseases”, and that across the month, “WorkSafe ACT will continue to engage with industry on these matters as part of its broader approach to work health and safety regulation”.

For more information on WorkSafe ACT’s October activities, visit www.worksafe.act.gov.au.

New South Wales

In October, NSW will run its ‘Safe Work Month’ (SWM), which “will focus on two key themes in 2020 — Construction Safety as well as Mentally Healthy Workplaces”, SafeWork NSW Executive Director, Community Engagement Andrew Gavrielatos told me. “Workplaces play a key role and have legal responsibilities to provide a healthy and safe workplace including managing the risk of injury, illness and disease including physical and psychological injury and illness,” Gavrielatos said, and COVID-19 has raised the importance, profile and need for immediate action across the community, especially in the area of mental health and wellbeing.

Mental health

Issues of mental health have been highlighted by the present pandemic, and this is reflected in NSW’s activities for October, activities that were informed by the results of a survey in which businesses indicated that managing mental health at work was the number one topic they wanted more information on in the state’s SWM. “[The] COVID-19 pandemic has created new risks and raised the potential of others such as workplace stress, bullying and violence for frontline and essential workers, including threats and abuse from clients and members of the public,” Gavrielatos said. “Additionally, changing work environments and remote working have an impact on mental health due to isolation. Employers have a legal responsibility to manage these risks.

“The Mentally Healthy Workplaces initiatives will lead businesses and workers to the www.mentalhealthatwork.nsw.gov.au websites where employers and workers can find tips and support to create mentally healthy workplaces and an opportunity to sign up to free mental health training programs for leaders and individuals,” Gavrielatos explained. “Employers have a legal responsibility […] to provide a safe and positive environment for their workers. A positive workplace culture brings out the best in everyone and benefits business by increased productivity […], reduced absenteeism and increased staff retention.”


Regarding the state’s second focus area during October, Gavrielatos explained that spotlighting construction in 2020 is worthwhile, especially “with construction continuing to operate during COVID-19”. The regulator will work to support the construction industry to work safely during COVID-19 while managing construction high-risk harms. Ways it will achieve this include by running a ‘working at heights’ awareness and compliance program and conducting ‘construction site supervisor’ workshops with a focus on supervisor responsibility and influence, consultation, risk management and understanding of Safe Work Method Statements. “The key message for the construction industry will be — ‘Help make health and safety a priority on your worksite’,” Gavrielatos explained.

The work safely at heights campaign will be realised via workplace visits and an awareness and compliance campaign, and all construction workplaces are encouraged to contribute to this initiative through proactively identifying and controlling falls risks. Regarding the construction site supervisor workshops, these will be presented virtually by a SafeWork NSW Inspector and will cover priority topics such as ‘Talking to your workers (Consultation)’ and ‘Safe Work Method Statements’. The workshops will attract 1 CPD point for 1 hour of online learning for construction site supervisors that attend, who will also be eligible to apply for the ‘SafeWork Small Business Safety Rebate’.


On 29 October, the SafeWork NSW Awards will also be held — as an online event. “This year there are up to 12 awards to be presented across two new categories for businesses, and unions and industry organisations for their response to COVID-19,” Gavrielatos said. In addition, the new categories in the 2020 SafeWork NSW Awards are complement to the national ‘WHS through COVID-19’ theme. “Small, large, regional, metro and government businesses and organisations who have demonstrated an outstanding work health and safety response to the changed working environment due to COVID-19 will be selected for this year’s Award,” Gavrielatos said.

October “provides the opportunity for a targeted reminder to focus on both physical and mental safety and look at the practical actions all businesses should take every day through the year to put health and safety first”, Gavrielatos surmised with respect to the state’s 2020 foci.

For more information on SafeWork NSW’s October activities, visit www.safework.nsw.gov.au.

Northern Territory

At time of writing, NT WorkSafe was still finalising its activities for this year’s NSWM.

Those in its jurisdiction are encouraged to visit the NT WorkSafe website (www.worksafe.nt.gov.au) during October for further information.


“Due to the difficult circumstances many businesses are facing because of COVID-19, all Safe Work Month events in Queensland this year will be digital and free, delivering vital safety and return to work information straight to screens across the state,” Queensland Safety Ambassador Shane Webcke said regarding the jurisdiction’s October initiatives. “The month officially kicks off on Thursday, 1 October with a digital launch featuring MasterChef’s Tessa Boersma and me in my capacity as Queensland Safety Ambassador. The morning focuses on staying healthy and safe at work and includes a cooking demonstration of how to a whip up an easy and healthy breakfast.

“Throughout October, expert speakers will cover hot topics like the ongoing health and safety implications of COVID-19, wellbeing programs, safety culture and stress resilient leadership, cultural capability, mentally healthy workplaces and rehabilitation and return to work,” Webcke outlined. “The jam-packed month winds up with a mental health session featuring former Olympic swimmer Hayley Lewis on Friday, 30 October.” Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHS Queensland) also confirms, as has been the case in previous years, that the state will not directly run with the national theme, although many of its presentations will cover the ongoing WHS implications of COVID-19.

Beyond the national theme

“The national theme has much relevance, but other priority disorders should not be overlooked,” the regulator said. “We understand many Queensland businesses are going through tough times with the pandemic adding to their normal pressures. However, as organisations battle hard, we wanted to make sure safety and return to work aren’t overlooked.” The regulator advised that workplaces can get involved during October by hosting their own event, “while they tune into one of our many and varied presentations”. Although social distancing must be observed, the regulator noted that October should also be a chance for workers to regroup and reconnect with their colleagues and get people talking about health, safety and wellbeing in the workplace.

“We’ve done some of the hard work and created a suite of resources to help plan and promote events. Businesses and workers are also welcome to take part in any of the 20-plus events scheduled. All they have to do is register online,” the regulator said. “We’ve got a full program of digital events planned with live-streamed expert speakers and panels. With so much on offer, you can design a Safe Work Month program tailored to your needs. You’ll come away from every event with clear take-away actions to help you immediately start improving health and safety and return to work outcomes in your workplace.”

For more information on WHS Queensland’s October activities, visit www.worksafe.qld.gov.au.

South Australia

This NSWM, SafeWork SA will be providing information and resources across a range of industries and topics and is again inviting businesses to go in the running for a share in $3000 worth of prizes by organising their own workplace activity. The competition runs throughout October and participants can register their activity anytime up until 31 October. Recipients of the Augusta Zadow Awards — the namesake of whom fought for the WHS rights of women and young workers during the 1800s — will also be announced during October.

For more information on SafeWork SA’s October activities, visit www.safework.sa.gov.au.


For 2020, Tasmania’s ‘WorkSafe Month’ has the theme ‘Safe Bodies, Safe Minds’, and aims to highlight the importance of our physical and mental health and wellbeing at work and to show Tasmanians what they can do to ensure work is safer, healthier and more productive. “The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in everyone adapting to a new ‘normal’, and Tasmania’s WorkSafe Month is no different,” WorkSafe Tasmania Acting Chief Executive Robyn Pearce told me. “WorkSafe Month is funded by the WorkCover Tasmania Board and is an important event in the Tasmanian business calendar. This year, WorkSafe Tasmania will deliver an entirely virtual WorkSafe Month program full of sessions covering work health and safety, wellbeing, mental health, injury management and return to work, including webinars and online training delivered by OzHelp Tasmania (a program of Lifeline Tasmania).

“Our theme continues the WorkCover Tasmania Board’s key education and awareness theme from recent years, yet fits comfortably with the COVID-19 message as there can be no doubt the virus is a risk to both safe bodies and safe minds,” Pearce explained. “Like the national theme, Tasmania’s theme and program acknowledges and reflects the wide-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on Australian businesses, employers and workers, with WorkSafe Month events covering everything from work health and safety, wellbeing, mental health, injury management and return to work with a COVID-19 lens on many of the sessions being held.” Pearce informs me that prior to COVID-19, WorkSafe Tasmania had planned a combined online and face-to-face program for 2020, inclusive of the WorkSafe Awards, the latter of which will not be going ahead this year.

Online learning

“Due to the uncertainty associated with COVID-19, the risks to business and workers from people mixing, and the restrictions on participants gathering, it was decided that the WorkSafe Awards would not be held this year while a virtual program would allow WorkSafe to continue to provide key messaging and information to the Tasmanian community, with topics sensitive to the current climate,” Pearce explained. “Online learning will give employers and workers with an interest in work health and safety the flexibility to learn in their own time, and at their own pace. The online sessions will feature some of the latest work health and safety thinking, developments and innovations.”

Tasmania’s initiatives will provide an opportunity for those in the state to hear from expert speakers, business leaders and health and safety professionals about topics including the ongoing health and safety implications of COVID-19, mental health at work, workplace wellbeing, supporting others in the workplace, and health and safety for small business. Pearce encourages all Tasmanians to get involved in WorkSafe Month by registering at www.worksafetasmonth.com.au to attend one of the free sessions. “Work health and safety should be part of every workplace’s culture, no matter how big or small,” Pearce believes. “WorkSafe Month is helping business and workers to achieve this in their workplace. In an increasingly complex and evolving environment, now more than ever we need to all proactively work together to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone is maintained.”

COVID-19 response

“Tasmania fully supports and endorses the national theme of WHS through COVID-19,” Pearce told me in response to a question on the matter. “Nationally and locally a number of restrictions have been enforced on all Australians to halt the spread of the virus. Workers and patrons have contracted COVID-19 in workplaces in a number of industries and jurisdictions, including within Tasmania,” Pearce added, pointing to the Tasmanian Government’s ‘COVID safe workplaces framework’, which highlights the key role that workplaces have in the road to recovery. “Events such as WorkSafe Month provide an ideal opportunity to share information that will help businesses and workers to embed workplace systems and behaviours that will help reduce the severity and impact of COVID-19 in the event of community transmission,” Pearce said.

For more information on Tasmania’s October activities, visit www.worksafetasmonth.com.au.


WorkSafe Victoria’s ‘Health and Safety Month 2020’ is fully virtual this year and geared towards helping employers and workers navigate through COVID-19, aligning with the national theme. The regulator is hosting a number of free online sessions to help employers and workers maintain safe, healthy and connected workplaces during the pandemic and beyond, with topics including: advice about working from home, promoting positive mental health, looking after injured workers and the impact of COVID-19 on WorkCover premiums. There will also be some industry-specific sessions on the program, the regulator advised.

For more information on WorkSafe Victoria’s October activities, visit www.worksafe.vic.gov.au.

Western Australia

During October, the Western Australian jurisdiction is delivering a virtual program of events and concentrating on helping to ensure that workplaces are made as safe as possible from all types of injury and illness, not just COVID-19. “During the unique COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remain focused on health and safety overall,” Western Australia’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety Deputy Director General Safety Regulation Ian Munns told me. “That’s why the theme of Western Australia’s 2020 Safe Work Month is ‘Staying focused on workplace health and safety’.”

The regulator encourages all of its state’s elected safety and health representatives, managers, supervisors, safety professionals, workers, students and anyone with a genuine interest in making workplaces safer to register via its website, which will feature on-demand videos from dangerous goods safety, mines safety and WorkSafe WA, as well as live interactions throughout the month. “The coronavirus has forced many of us to adapt to new practices and change the way we do things; however, it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that incidents and accidents of all types are still occurring,” Munns said.

For more information on Western Australia’s October activities, visit www.wa.gov.au/government/safe-work-month.


Comcare is aligning with the national theme this NSWM. In addition to a suite of resources, guidance and information available on its website to help employers and workers navigate through COVID-19, Comcare is delivering three webinars: ‘Accelerated workplace change in the face of COVID-19, a co-presentation by Comcare and Safe Work Australia’, ‘COVID-19, our work, mental health and wellbeing’ and ‘COVID-19, safety systems and safety culture’. The webinars are running 8, 14 and 28 October, respectively. The webinars are free and registration is via Comcare’s webinars page.

For more information on Comcare’s October activities, visit www.comcare.gov.au/about/news-events/events/safe-work-month.

United through COVID-19

WHS should always be front of mind; however, having it on the letterhead of our national agenda each October provides unique avenues for the advancement of health and safety at work. Such avenues have presented themselves in 2020 especially, as calls across this country intensify for our states and territories to present a further, more unified front in the battle against COVID-19. All Australian WHS jurisdictions I spoke with demonstrated a commitment to keeping safe work principles on the national agenda year-round, but also — for this October, amid a pandemic — recognised the importance of providing a platform through which to put forward an especially impassioned safety rallying call for 2020.

To draw out this passion via example, in my discussions with each of Australia’s WHS regulators, I asked what message they had for those in their respective jurisdictions for why, in 2020, WHS matters, and what, in their view, the significance is of campaigns such as SWA’s NSWM. To select just three responses to this prompt: SafeWork NSW’s Gavrielatos said that WHS is “as important as ever in this unprecedented year”; WorkSafe Tasmania’s Pearce echoed the familiar ethos of WHS campaigns as inspired by a wish we all have to “see every worker returning home at the end of every day”; and, my favourite answer, Queensland’s Webcke took the opportunity to remind me that, simply, despite the challenges of 2020, “one thing hasn’t changed […] October is still Safe Work Month”.

To conclude on a national note, these words from SWA’s Baxter speak to the spirit and significance of this year’s national theme: “Australia has a robust system of work health and safety laws […] requiring employers to manage risks to health and safety and ensure a safe working environment, and this is of even more importance as we deal with COVID-19.”

Safety Solutions’ Editor wishes to acknowledge with thanks the contributions of Safe Work Australia and the regulators of each Australian state and territory to the completion of this story, and to encourage all workers and employers to take part nationally and locally this October in advocating work health and safety.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/hedgehog94

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