Sep 19th 2022
Quick Guide to Occupational Health And Safety
Prevalence of Workplace Incidents in Australia
Workplace incidents are a leading cause of death and injury in Australia. Hundreds of workers lose their lives yearly, and many more are injured while on the job. While workplace accidents can happen in any industry, certain sectors are reported to have more casualties than others. For example, according to Safe Work Australia's latest data, the transport, postal, and warehousing industries had the highest fatalities in 2022, with 47 workers killed. The agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries were the second highest, with 22 worker deaths so far this year. The third highest is the construction industry, with 11 worker fatalities. These numbers make it clear that workplace safety is a problem in Australia and that more needs to be done to protect workers from harm.
What is Occupational Health and Safety?
Occupational health and safety (OHS) is a branch of public health focused on promoting and maintaining workers' highest degree of physical, mental, and social well-being in all workplaces. It can be defined as the discipline dealing with preventing work-related injuries and diseases. OHS strongly focuses on the primary prevention of hazards, intending to prevent accidents and harm to people from work-related activities.
Safe Work Australia is a national policy body that coordinates OHS activities across jurisdictions in Australia. Safe Work Australia does not have direct OHS powers or enforcement functions. Instead, its role is to develop national policy, promote improvement in workplace health and safety practices, set national priorities for Workplace Health and Safety research and help prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and diseases.
Safe Work Australia develops model OHS laws, which the states and territories adopt. The model laws aim to provide a consistent national approach to OHS while still recognising the need for each jurisdiction to respond to its own unique circumstances. State and territory OHS agencies also develop codes of practice, which provide practical guidance on how to comply with the OHS laws.
Every workplace must prioritise health and safety. Accidents, injuries, and toxic exposure can all harm workers, with the primary goal of occupational health and safety to protect employees from such potential hazards. Employers can create a safer workplace for everyone by implementing safety precautions. In addition to preventing accidents and injuries, occupational health and safety can promote workers' mental and social well-being. Employers can contribute to a more productive workforce by ensuring the safety and health of their employees.
Organisations that prioritise occupational health and safety (OHS) reap several significant benefits, including but not limited to:
- Reduction of risks of accidents or injuries in the workplace
- Lower workers' compensation and insurance premiums
- Fewer sick days and increased productivity
- Greater compliance with safety regulations
- Improved public image
- Improved efficiency and productivity
- Boosts employee relations and morale
- Reduced costs associated with accidents or injuries
What are OHS and WHS?
OHS and WHS are two familiar terms if you work in the safety industry. OHS and WHS are both terms that describe the safety of individuals working on the job site or in a company. OHS is the acronym for Occupational Health and Safety, while WHS is for Workplace Health and Safety.
In Safe Work Australia's draft model for OHS, the term 'work' rather than 'occupational' was used to 'apply more broadly to work, rather than only to occupations.' As a result, the definition of 'workplace' extended supervisors' responsibilities to include temporary workers such as day labourers and contractors. This has led to the development of the term WHS used when referencing material associated with the model regulations and codes of practice. But keep in mind that OHS and WHS are still used interchangeably.
Occupational health and safety can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. People in pre-industrial societies made a living through agriculture or home production, but with the advent of new machinery and manufacturing processes, people began to work in factories in cities. Factory-based societies led to dangerous and inhumane working conditions for children and adults.
The Factory Act (1802) was introduced in response to child labour complaints and reduced the legal working day to 10 hours. Over the next few decades, several other acts were introduced that further expanded rights until the first actual Occupational Safety and Health legislation was passed in the UK in the 1900s.
In Australia, several statutes aim to ensure occupational health and safety. The six state Acts, two territory Acts, and the Commonwealth Act cover a wide range of industries and employers to protect workers from potential harm. The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) was established in 1984 to oversee the implementation of these safety laws, but was replaced by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC) in 2005.
Safe Work Australia took over from the ASCC in 2009 in development of national occupational health and safety policies and workers' compensation. Australia has made significant progress in preventing workplace accidents and injuries by ensuring that all workers are protected by law.
Types of Workplace Hazards
There are many potential hazards that workers may be exposed to while on the job. The most common include:
Physical hazards: can cause physical harm, such as slips, trips, and falls.
Chemical hazards: can cause chemical burns or poisoning, such as exposure to toxic chemicals.
Biological hazards: can cause infections or illnesses, such as exposure to bacteria or viruses.
Psychological hazards: can cause stress or other mental health problems, such as job insecurity or bullying.
Ergonomic hazards: can cause musculoskeletal disorders, such as repetitive strain injuries.
Safety hazards: cause accidents or injuries, such as unsafe machinery.
These are the common hazards a worker may face while on the job and the reason for establishing OHS legislation and policies.
The concept of prevention is key in the field of OHS. Preventing workplace injuries and ill health should be the primary objective of any OHS management system, rather than attempting to solve problems after they have occurred.
Prevention-oriented approaches to OHS management can help reduce the number and severity of accidents and incidents as well as improve overall efficiency and productivity. Here are some of the methods of prevention-oriented approaches:
1. Hazard identification and risk assessment
Identifying hazards and assessing their risks is the first step in preventing workplace accidents and injuries. This can be done through various methods, such as job safety analysis, hazard identification walks, risk assessment forms, and safety audits.
2. Implementation of control measures
After hazards have been identified and their risks assessed, appropriate control measures need to be implemented to eliminate or minimise them. This may involve changes to work practices, the use of personal protective equipment, or the introduction of engineering controls.
3. Communication and consultation
Effective communication and consultation with workers are essential for the success of any OSH management system. This helps ensure that everyone knows the hazards and risks present in the workplace and what needs to be done to control them. You can conduct toolbox talks, safety meetings, or training sessions to communicate OSH information to workers.
4. Monitoring and review
Monitoring and review are essential for the continual improvement of an OSH management system. This may involve the regular recording and reporting of accidents and incidents, as well as the conduct of audits and inspections.
An effective OHS management system should be able to address the following:
- WHS responsibilities of employers, employees, contractors, manufacturers, importers, designers, and suppliers
- The identification, assessment, and control of hazards and risks in the workplace
- Safe work practices and procedures
- Training and consultation arrangements
- Monitoring, evaluation, and review of the system
Keep in mind that an effective OHS management system cannot be developed without the full commitment and involvement of everyone in the organisation, from top management down to the workers.
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Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.
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