Top seven tips for effectively managing OHS in your workplace

By Nicole Albert*
Thursday, 28 January, 2010

Complying with and managing OHS is often seen as an increasing burden, one that takes up precious time and money. It’s essential for all businesses to remove this task from the ‘too-hard basket’ and make it a priority.

Serious accidents may not be commonplace in workplaces but, when they do happen, they can have a devastating effect. You may lose an experienced worker, face legal compliance issues, spend considerable time conducting internal investigations and experience sharp increases in workers compensation premiums.

By following these seven simple steps, companies can be on their way to creating a safer, injury-free workplace, not only avoiding compensation claims and potential fines but also benefiting from a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.

1. Understand responsibilities

Business owners are ultimately responsible for the safety in their workplace and need to research the legal OHS requirements that apply to them. Once this is understood, it’s important to write a health and safety policy to clearly outline a commitment to safety.

Keep the policy simple and make sure intentions are included, objectives set and specific responsibilities allocated to managers, supervisors and workers. Support this policy with an action plan aimed at continually improving health and safety in the workplace. Don’t forget to include the responsibilities involved in engaging contractors.

Without clearly written documents, it’s difficult to hold people accountable for their safety duties and responsibilities.

2. Consult workers

It’s vital to involve workers in any decisions that may affect their health and safety. Often the people carrying out the work are the best people to inform of the risks involved and the improvements that could be made to achieve a safer workplace.

Under OHS legislation, employers are required to have appropriate consultation arrangements in place. Forums such as committees, elected representatives and designated workgroups are required. These arrangements need to take into account the industry risks, workplace locations and other factors.

Regularly consult these groups on all safety matters and keep communication open to ensure effective safety systems can be established. It’s a good idea to plan regular safety meetings into a schedule and to keep a documented record of the agreed actions arising from them.

3. Identify, assess and control risks

It’s essential that organisations understand their health and safety risks by having systems in place to identify hazards and assess and control risks. Having employees report hazards, conducting regular workplace inspections, analysing incident data and even using an external auditor to inspect the workplace are some methods that can be used to identify hazards. An assessment of those hazards will determine the time frame and urgency for controlling the risk.

Starting with the most dangerous risk first, try to eliminate the hazard; and if this cannot be done, substitute it with something that’s safer. A combination of isolating the hazard, using administering control measures or engineering controls and making personal protective equipment compulsory may be necessary to reduce the level of risk.

4. Inform, train and supervise

A workplace has no hope of achieving safety success without the cooperation and understanding of employees. Make sure workers are kept informed of all risks, changes and procedures.

Enlist the help of manuals, data sheets, written work instructions (safe work method statements), health and safety notice boards and training videos to ensure complete understanding from all employees. Training courses such as first aid, health-and-safety-representative training and certification courses for particular industries are also a good idea.

Adequate supervision must be provided at all times to ensure workers' safety. The degree of supervision required will depend on each individual’s job tasks, knowledge and experience. Evaluate the competency of workers on a regular basis and decide the level required to ensure workers are always operating in a safe manner. You may also have legal licensing requirements that must be considered also.

5. Manage incidents and injuries

While the whole reason of implementing an OHS plan is to avoid accidents from happening in the first place, sometimes accidents do happen. Managing work-related incidents and injuries is a legislative requirement and is an important part of minimising loss and disruption in businesses.

Plan for emergencies before they arise by implementing an emergency procedure for any sort of emergency situation the business may be exposed to, such as fire. Implementing a first-aid plan is also high on the list of priorities.

When injuries do happen, they need to be investigated and reported immediately. Identify what went wrong and why, and take action to ensure the same situation isn’t repeated. It may be a requirement to report serious injuries to a WorkCover Authority and a return-to-work plan should be implemented to help workers return to the workplace as quickly as possible. It is critical that injured workers remain engaged in the workplace, especially if the injured person is not able to work, so consider a regular schedule of contact until a return to work can be achieved.

6. Keep records

It is important to document health and safety activities and to keep these records to ensure all legal requirements are met, information is provided to workers and the health and safety performance of the business is monitored.

Records that should be kept include all documents referring to hazard identification, risk assessment and control processes, maintenance of plant and equipment, registers of accidents and injuries, hazardous substances, training records and personnel records. These records need to be kept up to date to be of the greatest benefit.

It’s essential to have systems in place for collecting health and safety data so that an analysis of trends and progress against key objectives is possible.

7. Monitor, review and improve

Managing health and safety is an ongoing process that should form part of the way companies do business. After having established an OHS management system, find out how well it’s working by regularly checking and evaluating each step and making appropriate changes to ensure its continual success. Evaluate the implementation of policies and procedures and the effectiveness of those interventions. Consultation doesn’t stop at setting up policies - the entire workforce should be kept appraised of any reviews and findings to ensure ongoing engagement.

*Nicole Albert, National Manager, Konekt Containment

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