More than 100,000 serious injuries occur in Australian workplaces every year, according to Safe Work Australia (SWA), with 40% of compensation claims coming from employees in administration, professional services, sales, community work and management.
Common injury mechanisms include mental stress, slips, trips and falls, and collisions with objects. This is despite businesses’ obligations to comply with their state’s Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws.
To help improve workplace safety, SAI Global has created a list, identifying seven workplace hazards commonly overlooked by employers:
Heavy workloads and high stress levels: Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness or injury in Australia, after musculoskeletal disorders, according to Better Health Victoria. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, sleep loss and depression, or behavioural symptoms, such as mood swings. These can contribute to long-term health complications such as sleep loss and diabetes.
To help prevent this, employers should abide by the ISO 45001 Standard, which requires top management to include all workers in their WHS decision-making and implement ways to gather employee feedback.
Concealed bullying and harassment: While people tend to think of managers as the main perpetrators of workplace bullying and harassment, SAI Global auditors have observed junior- to mid-level employees, contractors and external suppliers making hurtful remarks, playing mind games, making people feel undervalued, assigning pointless tasks that are not related to a person’s job and other harmful behaviours. This puts employees at risk of emotional trauma and mental health injuries.
To prevent this, employers need to create a respectful organisational culture as well as policies against workplace bullying.
Basic clutter: Stacked boxes, plants, artworks, bags on floors and poorly placed courier deliveries can be trip or collision hazards for anyone in the workplace, especially if they are distracted or carrying items around corners.
Here, SAI Global recommends employers organise regular housekeeping activities, risk assessments and inspections to identify workplace hazards. Additionally, all workplace items should have predetermined storage locations when they are not being used and employees should be informed of the new standards to ensure that intended habits are adopted.
Blocked fire safety equipment: Bookshelves or tall furniture can block fire exits, sprinkler heads, fire hoses or fire hydrants.
To ensure easy access in an emergency, employers should ensure fire safety equipment have one-metre-clear zones marked by signage, workplaces have regular safety inspections and that there is preventative maintenance in place for essential services.
Non-adjustable desks, chairs and monitors: Lower back pain accounts for a third of all work-related disabilities, according to research led by the University of Sydney.
Height-adjustable desks, chairs and monitors can prevent employee injuries and the associated costs of compensation claims.
Extreme workplace temperatures: Heat and cold stress can impact employee health and an employee falling ill due to uncomfortable temperature conditions can lead to days off work and even a workers compensation claim.
To maintain employee comfort and prevent heat or cold stress, interior workplaces should be kept at even temperatures of 22°C in summer and 24°C in winter.
An employer’s lack of commitment to safety: Injuries and illnesses are more likely to occur in workplaces where staff are not educated about potential workplace hazards, risks and good safety practices.
As a result, all companies should have a WHS policy in place, with relevant managers ensuring that staff — including contractors, volunteers and interns — are familiar with the policy and taking practical steps to demonstrate that employee safety is a priority. A safe culture is directly linked to productive workplaces. If a supervisor or manager does something unsafe, it is likely that other workers will follow suit, SAI Global added.
Not complying with the WHS Act can result in thousands of dollars in litigation costs, a drain on resources, potential loss of time, illness and injuries, increased WorkCover claims, a damaged brand reputation and potential fatalities.To ensure a safe, risk-free environment for all employees, employers should continually assess the workplace for risks, and listen to and consult all workers, SAI Global concluded.
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