As employers, it’s normal to assume your workplace is safe if you’ve ticked all the boxes and regularly perform checks. But a recent study by Safe Work Australia shows we might not be managing health and safety as well as we should.
The study measured how effectively employers empower their staff in terms of workplace safety and found the vast majority think they do this pretty well; 90 percent of surveyed managers said their business takes on board the suggestions of staff regarding safety most of the time, while 88 percent indicated they actively encourage workers to participate in the decision-making process when it comes to their own safety.
While it’s great to see optimism and enthusiasm toward safety at management level, the study also revealed a worrying disconnect between employers’ claims and their actions. It found up to 25 percent of employers do not regularly empower workers to make safety a priority and do not engage in active consultation with workers. Additionally, it showed employers do not always treat employees justly when investigating accidents; an alarming 50 percent of surveyed employers admitted they do not collect information regarding incident investigations frequently.
Collecting information, consulting with workers and notifying EHS authorities of incidents are all duties required by legislation, and this study suggests a substantial number of Australian employers may be at risk.
Clearly there is a perception issue that needs to be addressed. How do we close the gap between what employers report and how well they are really empowering staff when it comes to safety?
For safety to be practised uniformly throughout an organisation, it needs to be part of the important conversations at board level. If the executive leadership team doesn’t make health and safety a priority, then managers and staff on the ground won’t either. Make sure EHS is an agenda item for every strategy, planning or budget meeting to solidify its importance.
Managers need access to support in order to meet health and safety compliance standards. There is an abundance of fact sheets, e-newsletters, blogs and industry information campaigns that can be used to stay up to date with legislation and best practice, most of which are free. Encourage managers sign up to these resources to keep safety top of mind in their day-to-day running of teams and departments.
Bring in specialists
External consultants can be brought in to help educate managers on how to reach, and even exceed, safety compliance. An external safety consultant will also give you an impartial perspective on whether there is a gap between your perception of safety versus actual results. It’s a small investment in time and money that could have a big impact on your business.
It is crucial for managers to keep open lines of communication with staff and actively empower them to engrain safety in their behaviour at work. Educate staff on their rights, induct every new staff member on safety policies and procedures and ensure everyone understands their own responsibilities in creating a safe workplace.
Remind everyone of what’s at stake
In 2016, there were 178 work-related deaths in Australia and 49 in New Zealand. We all have a role to play to end workplace fatalities and the only way to achieve this is to shine a light on our shortcomings and actively work to improve them. Empower your people to think safety, act safely and get home from work every day.
Tim Dowling is the general manager commercial operations, Australia at Vault Intelligence.