Workplace health and safety risks spotlighted in report

Workers said to follow example of employers and management

Workplace health and safety risks spotlighted in report
Employers should regularly revise workplace practices


Senior management needs to be serious about its legislative obligation and look at reducing risks of physical and mental illness and injury to workers.

That is the message from risk management company SAI Global, which says that, despite businesses in Australia having a legal requirement to comply with their state’s Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws, more than 100,000 serious workplace injuries still occur every year.

These range from mental stress, to trips and falls, to collisions with objects.

"Contrary to a common perception that compensation claims largely occur in physically labour-intensive workplaces, the latest data from SafeWork Australia reveals that 40 per cent of claims have been made by employees in administration, professional services, sales, community work and management," SAI Global workplace safety spokesperson Rod Beath says.

"Our audits reveal that risks are most significant in those organisations where management has not taken on board the company’s Workplace Health and Safety policy, or have not included and consulted everyone in the company.

"Senior management need to be serious about their legislative obligation and look at reducing risks of physical and mental illness and injury to their workers."

How FBT Transwest manages risk and fulfils safety duties, here

SAI Global alerts organisations to commonly overlooked workplace practices that are risking the health and safety of their employees.

These include:

 1. Heavy workloads and high stress levels: Work-related stress is the second-most common compensated illness or injury in Australia. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, sleep loss and depression, or behavioural symptoms such as mood swings. These can contribute to long-term health complications such as sleep loss and even diabetes. The ISO 45001 Standard requires top management to include all workers in their WHS decision making, and implement ways to gather employee feedback.

2. Concealed bullying and harassment: Managers are often thought of as the main perpetrators of workplace bullying and harassment, SAI Global notes. But its auditors have identified the behaviour among junior-to-mid-level employees, contractors and even external suppliers. Bullying and harassment includes hurtful remarks, playing mind games, making one feeling undervalued, assigning pointless tasks that have nothing to do with a person’s job, giving impossible KPIs or jobs, changing work schedules to make it difficult for the employee, or being required to do humiliating things to be accepted in a team. Being at the receiving end of bullying and harassment can cause emotional trauma and lead to mental health injuries.

3. Basic clutter: Do staff need to meander around stacked boxes, plants, bags on floors or courier deliveries placed in access areas? These present trip or collision risks for anyone on the workplace, especially when they are distracted, carrying items or turning corners. SAI Global recommends that employers organise regular workplace ‘housekeeping’ or inspections to identify potential obstacles that might create hazards.

4. Blocking fire safety equipment: Are shelves or other items blocking fire exits, sprinkler heads, fire hoses or fire hydrants? These can obstruct the use or efficiency of fire safety equipment in the case of an emergency. Management should ensure fire safety equipment has one-metre-clear zones marked by signage, workplaces have regular safety inspections, and there is preventative maintenance in place for essential services.

5. Non-adjustable desks, chairs and monitors: Think height adjustable desks are a bit of a fad? Not so. Desks, chairs and monitors that can’t be adapted to employee needs can lead to injuries. Research led by the University of Sydney found that lower back pain accounts for a third of all work-related disability. While employers might be reluctant to incur the expense of ergonomic equipment, the cost of compensation claims as a can far outweigh the investment.

6. Extreme workplace temperatures: Are desks positioned beneath air-conditioning vents, or in draughts? Or is direct sunlight causing ‘hot spots’ in the office in summer? Employee complaints related to temperature are common. Ideally, interior workplaces should be a comfortable even temperature of 22 degrees in summer and 24 degrees in winter. Heat and cold stress can impact health. An employee falling ill because they were forced to work in uncomfortable conditions can lead to days off work, and even a workers compensation claim.

7. An employer’s lack of commitment to safety: If you can’t remember seeing a company WHS policy, you have a major employee safety issue. You still have an issue if your company does have a WHS program, but not every person working under the organisation – including contractors, volunteers and interns – is included and consulted into it. When staff are not educated about potential workplace hazards, risks and good safety practices, injuries and illnesses are more likely to occur.

If a supervisor or manager does something unsafe, it’s likely that other workers will follow suit, Beath concludes.

"Not complying with the Workplace Health and Safety Act can result in thousands of dollars in litigation costs, a drain on resources, potential loss of time, illness an injuries, increased WorkCover claims, a damaged brand reputation – and, of greatest concern, potential fatalities," Beath says.


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