So what’s happening in health and safety?

More teenagers and farmers have suffered traumatic injuries at work.  How hard is it really to provide adequate training and supervision to inexperienced staff and to install physical barriers to prevent entrapment?  The same types of accidents keep resulting in prosecutions; keep vehicles away from pedestrians and understand the hierarchy of control measures (if a risk can be minimised by both administrative and engineering controls, use the engineering controls because they’re more effective).

For the labour hirers amongst us, Safe Work Australia has just published a seven page guide on managing your WHS responsibilities to employees placed with a host employer.

Last month a Victorian director and his company were fined $116,250 for leading a culture of entrenched bullying.  This follows the conviction of Luke Chenoweth in August 2019 who was fined $21,000 for setting the clothing of an apprentice on fire at a construction site in Woodville.  Luke’s supervisor Jeffrey Rowe was fined $12,000 for failing to intervene.

Assaulting employees, speaking in an aggressive and intimidating manner, swearing, using discriminatory language and making sexually suggestive comments is getting more expensive for bosses and workers as the effects of psychological injury are becoming better understood.

Seeing how other businesses have got health and safety wrong can help you to know how to get health and safety right.  Enforceable undertakings are becoming more popular as an alternative to prosecuting companies that have breached their WHS obligations.  You can find them on the websites of state WHS regulators such as SafeWork SA or SafeWork NSW.  They give us an indication of what the regulators think we should be focussing on.

Take the enforceable undertaking of Wagga Motors, a mid-size motor vehicle dealership with 86 employees.  A horse handler had been killed when the hydraulics failed on the tailgate of a horse float Wagga Motors had serviced.  That company undertook to spend $200,000 over a two year period to:

  1. Appoint a WHS Co-ordinator
  2. Review the Work Health and Safety Management System
  3. Implement a WHS Culture Program
  4. Review the Workshop Safe Work Procedures
  5. Present ‘Lessons Learnt’ at Isuzu Truck Dealers Business Meetings
  6. Present ‘Lessons Learnt’ at NSW Motor Trades Association Members Forums
  7. Conduct/facilitate a Safe Work Expo.

If the idea of spending $100,000 per year on health and safety comes as a shock to you, you may not be taking WHS as seriously as the regulators think you should.

Also in New South Wales, a model corporate citizen with an unblemished safety record after 50 years in business was fined $75,000 with respect to a serious crush injury caused by failure to adapt to risks posed by a one-off task.  The fabrications business has Job Safety Analyses for all regular work tasks but employees did not turn their minds to new risks posed by a new task, with devastating consequences.

This highlights the importance of WHS not just being a risk that is managed on paper in policies, but every day in the office or workshop or field.  Here follow the ABCs of WHS:

Have WHS in your Agenda, your Budget and your Culture.