According to Safe Work Australia, more than 3,200 workers lost their lives in work-related incidents between 2003 and 2015. That’s around 246 people every year.

Written by Alan Girle, Director at Australian Business Lawyers & Advisors and head of the Safety practice, who has been recognised as a Preeminent Lawyer in Safety for the 2019 Doyles Guide

These figures should elicit a pretty obvious response in any organisation. But where does the responsibility fall for starting or rekindling the conversation about work health and safety (WHS) in the workplace?

The questions to ask are:

1. What happens when an incident occurs in your business?
2. When does HR get involved and to what degree?

WHS is expanding to include the health and wellbeing of an employee as well as the physical safety the employer must provide.

The move towards looking after the mental health of sta¬ff, along with their physical safety in the workplace, is expanding the portfolio of the HR executive.

It goes beyond the compliance documents, audits and training that should be standard practice for all businesses, and encompasses cultural change that engages employees in being proactive in managing WHS risks for themselves and others.

The HR team has the power to drive WHS cultural change in any organisation, but making it an integral part of management is the key. Use the following checklist to gauge how your business promotes a positive WHS culture.

Consider whether your company:

  • includes WHS induction training for every employee
  • regularly conducts consultative reviews of WHS practices with employees
  • communicates to all staff on how to respond to a critical incident – this may depend on the nature of work the team does
  • leads by example and exhibits prompt action when things go wrong – employees need to see that their health and safety matters
  • shares the cost of ineffective WHS practices and remedies to fix this, including training and workers’ compensation or rehabilitation
  • enforces penalties for repeat offenders in breach of WHS policies

When employees understand the importance of best practice WHS, the consequences of breaches, and the committed management has to the wellbeing and safety of its sta¬ff, changes can happen.

Health and Safety Committees
If you operate in a unionised workplace, a Health and Safety Committee should be established, made up of a mix of management and employees.

If not unionised, it is highly recommended you have such a committee and promote its activity to the business.
This needs to be more than just giving someone the fire warden’s hat for the fire drill. You need to demonstrate the commitment to building a positive safety culture.

Together with the HR leader, this committee should establish a Health and Safety Program that includes the following:

  • WHS inspections and audits
  • staff training
  • incident response training
  • Employee Assistance Programs

Leadership must work fastidiously to promote and engender a culture of work health and safety adherence.
This must be a demonstrated by example from the top down, and HR holds the power for establishing uniformity across the organisation.

Next steps

Join Alan Girle for a day of learning, case studies and discussion at the Work, Health and Safety Fundamentals training course. Make safety your priority today and register now.

If this article has made you think that WHS priorities are not top of mind, make 2019 the safety year and shift the culture in your business and contact us today on 1300 565 846 or