We spend a significant amount of our time at work, so workplace health and safety should be a top priority for everyone.
Hazards are present in all workplaces and there will always be the potential for injuries and accidents. However, certain industries and workplaces are more prone to incidents than others, and can significantly affect the health and wellbeing of workers.
For example, in more labour intensive industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and demolition, workers are often exposed to more severe hazards in the workplace than an accountant that works in an office all day. This is because typical workplaces in these industries tend to be outdoors, require prolonged periods of physical labour and/or the operation of tools and machinery.
According to Safe Work Australia's Australian Workers' Compensation Statistics 2015-16, health care and social assistance, manufacturing, and construction account for almost 40 per cent of serious claims, but make up less than 30 per cent of the workforce. These industries experience a disproportionately high incident rate due to the manual nature of tasks, long hours and exposure to chemicals, drugs, debris and biohazards.

Workplace Health and Safety, commonly referred to as WHS, are the guidelines, policies and legislations that have been put in place to maintain the safety and wellbeing of all parties present in the workplace. This includes the health and safety of employees, customers, visitors, contractors, volunteers and suppliers. The purpose of WHS is to identify and assess the hazards that are present in the work environment and implement strategies to mitigate the risks.

WHS responsibilities fall on both the employer and employee, so it's important for these parties understand the responsibilities and obligations they have in order to maintain a safe work environment for all.

Worker Responsibilities

Since creating a safe work environment requires effort by all relevant parties, workers also need to play an active part in ensuring that this is successfully achieved. Completing a day of work and coming home safely to loved ones is a major reason why workers endeavour to stay safe on the job and assist in maintaining the safety of others in the workplace.

Th following are some of the major responsibilities that workers have when it comes to upholding Workplace Health and Safety:

  • Workers must act in a way that maintains their own health & safety.
    - Workers must act in a way that maintains the health & safety of others around them.
    - Workers must comply with reasonable procedures, policies and instructions given to them by their manager/employer/owner of the workplace.
    - Workers must report any hazards, accidents or WHS related incidents to the employer, or other relevant authority.
    - Workers must use any personal protective equipment (PPE) that is provided to them.

Employer Responsibilities

As mentioned above, creating a safe work environment requires a concerted effort from both employees and employers; however, employers carry a higher amount of responsibility to ensure WHS.
Under Work Health and Safety laws, the person conducting a business (PCBU) has the primary duty of care. The weight of complying with Workplace Health & Safety regulations is mostly the responsibility of the PCBU, as they oversee the workplace and the workers, and are in charge of upholding WHS legislations, and implementing policies and procedures to keep all present parties safe.

Under WHS, Employer responsibilities include the following:

  • Undertaking a duty of care for workers & visitors on-site, and a duty to consult anyone about WHS procedures, potential risks, decision-making/changes that may have an impact on the health and safety of workers.
    - Acting in a reasonably practicable way to ensure the health and safety of workers and visitors.
    - Effectively managing the workplace in order to reduce the health and safety risks in the workplace, including when entering or exiting the workplace.
    - Establishing a return to work program for injured workers, assisting with recovery and getting them back into work.
    - Routinely complete risk assessments of the workplace to identify, assess and control hazards in the workplace.

It's extremely important that employers properly induct workers, so that they understand the safety procedures implemented on-site.
This will help to equip all workers with the necessary knowledge and information required to keep themselves safe whilst on the job.

What Happens When A Workplace Incident Happens?

Hazards are inevitable, so it is often just a matter of time before an incident takes place. No matter how big or small an incident is, it is important that it is managed properly so that the hazard can be minimised, the affected parties are taken care of, and the risk to the health and safety of other parties is reduced.
Notifiable incidents include serious injury or illness, any dangers that expose workers to serious risk (even if no injury occurs), or a death.

After a workplace injury happens, there are a series of steps and procedures that both the employer and employee must follow in order to ensure the most desirable outcome for both parties. The following is a timeline of what should happen once a workplace injury takes place.

  1. The worker should notify the employer, supervisor or PCBU immediately if an injury or near miss occurs, or if first aid is required.
    2. The PCBU notifies the insurer about the incident within 48 hours.
    3. Wait for the insurer to contact you, your employer and your doctor if necessary, in order to determine your recovery process and any payments you may be entitled to.

As an employer, in addition to complying with the steps above, it's vitally important to register the injury and notify Safe Work. This lessens any risk of possible lawsuits, further injury, increased medical costs and even fatality.

Registering the Injury

Legally, employers must keep an electronic or hard-copy register of injuries in order to notify Safe Work and their insurer of any serious workplace injuries. This register of injuries must include:

  • The injured worker's details: name, address, age & occupation at the time of the injury
    - The industry in which the worker was in at the time of the injury
    - The details of the injury: time & date, nature & cause

With this register, employers can reflect upon whether an injury stems from a WHS issue or a mistake made by the worker.

Notifying Safe Work

If the incident results in serious injury, illness or death, or poses a serious risk to the health and safety of workers/visitors, the employer must notify SafeWork immediately, so an investigation can begin. What constitutes these incidents are mostly death, potentially dangerous incidents and a serious injury of a person. In addition to notifying SafeWork NSW, employers must also:

  • Provide first aid if necessary and ensure the worker receives the right care.
    - Take steps to leave the incident site untouched until an inspector arrives.
    - Notify the insurer within 48 hours.

Failure to notify an injury may result in fines up to $10,000 (individual) or $50,000 (body corporate).

It is important to note that the legal procedures associated with WHS and incident reporting can very between states, so make sure you check with your states Safe Work website to ensure that you meet the requirements.

The following links will take you to your state or territory's Safe Work website:
- SA
- WA
- NT

If you're unsure about what WHS regulations entail, check out our Safety Systems & Standards which highlight our Zero-Harm Policy! Workplace safety and management is our utmost priority, so feel free to contact us if you'd like to find out more about WHS.