Articles

Minimise Workplace Hazards

Whatever kind of business you run, whether it’s a workshop, a retail outlet or a factory, your workplace contains potential hazards that could injure or even kill your employees.

Which is why having an OHS system in place is so important. Protecting your staff’s health and safety isn’t just the right thing to do… it’s the law. As an employer, you are required to provide and maintain a safe working environment for your employees.

While uniform national OHS legislation has not yet been fully achieved in Australia, the OHS legislation in most states and territories contains similar health and safety obligations.

These include the requirement to provide:

  • safe premises
  • safe handling, storage and transport of materials
  • safe operating systems
  • education, training and supervision of employees.

The first step in OHS risk management is risk assessment. This involves examining the systems and processes in your workplace, identifying and assessing potential risks, and finding and implementing practical solutions to those risks.

The law doesn’t require you to completely eliminate all risks from your workplace, but is does require you to protect your employees as much as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

Obviously different kinds of workplaces have different kinds of hazards, but there are some typical risks common to most businesses. Defined as anything with the potential to cause harm, hazards can be categorized as:

Physical hazards

These include excessive noise, poor lighting, machinery vibrations, falls and impacts (stairways, chairs, ladders, objects falling from heights etc), electrical injuries (one of the top 10 causes of injury), manual lifting injuries (one of the most basic and costly injuries to business), and muscular injuries (repetitive strain injuries etc).

Stress hazards

These include overwork (resulting in burnout), workplace bullying (leading to poor morale, loss of productivity and increased absenteeism), and sexual harassment (can lead to litigation and heavy fines).

Chemical hazards

These include exposure to fumes (exhaust, cleaning chemicals, poorly maintained air-conditioning), dangerous substances (strict requirements apply regarding handling, storage and transport), and the risk of fire and explosions (fire extinguishers not in place or not maintained, fire drills not carried out).

Once the risks have been identified and controlled as much as possible, your ongoing responsibility is to develop and implement OH&S training programs to ensure that your employees have the knowledge, experience and qualifications necessary to maintain a safe workplace.

The types of training that may be required include:

  • Induction training for new employees
  • Hazard identification and control
  • Safe manual handling
  • Office safety
  • Mandatory training such as first aid and certificates of competency
  • On the job training for specialised roles.

As an employee, you have the right to expect a safe workplace and the obligation to be safety conscious at all times and to obey all OHS requirements.

As an employer, keeping your workers safe also means reducing the cost of downtime through injuries and avoiding heavy fines for breaching OHS laws.

So it’s easy to see why having an OHS management system in place is in everybody’s interests.