To ensure compliance with WHS legislation a planned, systematic and coordinated approach to WHS Management is required. Whilst systems developed need to reflect the environment a service provider is working within there are some generally accepted principles which should apply to any workplace.
Disability Services Providers must operate under the Work Health and Safety Legislation in individual states and territories as well as a range of Disability related legislation.
As well as compliance, an effective WHS Management System can assist your organisation to;
- Keep Clients, Employees and Contractors Safe
- Minimising exposure to fines and penalties
- Reducing compliance costs
- Reducing stress
- Protect your insurance coverage
- Enhance your business reputation
An excellent overview of managing WHS in a community based service has been develoepd by Safe Work SA. It includes a number of case studies as well as template forms etc and has been developed in line with the harmonised WHS Act.
Work Health and Safety (WHS) Legislation consists of a WHS Act and WHS Regulation as well as a number of approved Codes of Practice. Disability Service providers are regarded as Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU). The PCBU has responsibility for the general duty to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of workers and others as far as is reasonably practicable. Workers include employees, volunteers, contractors and sub-contractors and their employees, agency staff, students and any others who undertake any form of work for the PCBU.
A workplace is anywhere where work is undertaken and includes offices, workshops, vehicles, client's homes and community venues. A positive duty known as due diligence to ensure that the PCBU meets its obligations under the legislation is placed on Officers of the PCBU. Officers include CEO level and Board members but may include anyone else who makes decisions which affects more than 50% of the organisation. Individual organisations need to identify who would be classified as Officers within their organisations and ensure that they meet their due diligence obligations.
The PCBU must consult effectively with all workers and with other PCBUs. Consultation is the cornerstone of all parts of the legislation. Mechanisms for consultation are determined by the PCBU in consultation with workers but the legislation provides information on Health and Safety Representative (HSR) elections and Health and Safety Committee formation. The model Act and Regulation can be accessed here.
There is also a duty to consult, coordinate and cooperate wsith other PCBUs. This is important in the disability sector due to the need to contract out work either through brokerage arrangements or direct contracting. Each PCBU has WHS obligations in such istuations and care should be taken to ensure that they are met. The principal must have systems in place to ensure that the contractor is complying with health and safety obligations. The NDS WHS Sub-committee has developed guidance material on this issue as well as a sample agreement but individual orgs should seek their own legal advice where relevant.
A number of Codes of Practice have been approved. Copies of the Codes of Practice are available on the Safe Work Australia Website www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au. Summaries in the form of factsheets are available for the following Codes of Practice relevant to the Disability Sector:
- General Workplace Management
- Workers Representation and Participation
- Managing Health and Safety Risks
- Hazardous Manual tasks
- Electrical safety
- First Aid.
There is also a factsheet on PCBUs, RCDs and PPE. There is also a sample factsheet which can be given to volunteers to explain their WHS obligations.
The ideal way to implement the WHS legislation is through a planned, systematic and coordinated approach. Models for such an approach are available and how they are implemented is dependent upon the type of service being offered. However there are some generally accepted principles which should apply to any workplace. Adoption of these practices should reduce the risk of injury and the risk of non-compliance with legislative requirements.
A checklist has been developed to assist organisations to review their WHS Management systems.
Safe Work NSW has released a Work Health and Safety Roadmap for NSW 2022. The roadmap will drive state-wide activities for improvement in work health and safety in NSW and sets out targets including a 30% reduction in serious musculoskeletal injuries and illnesses and is targeting key priority areas including health care and social assistance where Disability Services sit.
An essential feature of any successful Work Health and Safety Management System is demonstrated commitment from management at all levels within an organisation. It is up to management to develop and promote a safety culture within the organisation where accidents are the exception rather than the rule and hazards are reported readily and resolved consultatively quickly.
Commitment should be demonstrated through the publication of a Work Health and Safety (WHS) Policy and associated procedures. The Policy Statement should outline the goals and objectives of management, specific responsibility of all involved in the organisation and resources which will be provided to achieve the goals and objectives.
Commitment can be further demonstrated through development of a WHS Plan for the year, inclusion of WHS responsibilities in job descriptions and key performance indicators for all staff and inclusion of WHS as a regular agenda item at staff meetings.
Officers of the PCBU have responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act to ensure due diligence. Due Diligence means an officer must:
- have an understanding of the nature of the operations of the PCBU and the hazards and risks associated with those operations
- ensure appropriate resources and process to enable identification, elimination or control of specific WHS hazards, risks, compliance with specific obligations (consultation, incident notification)
- have up to date knowledge of WHS laws and compliance requirements
- verify that risk and hazards are being appropriately controlled
- ensure there is a process for receiving, considering and ensuring a timely response to information regarding incidents, identified hazards and risks
- ensure verification of the provision and use of the resources and processes that have been implemented for the purposes of auditing and review.
Building a Safety Culture
Aim to achieve workforce engagement in safety through active leadership at all levels within the organisation and an understanding and acceptance that work should not be undertaken unless it is deemed safe to undertake. Individual workers must recognise their individual responsibilities to work safely as a condition of employment. This can only be achieved if there is thorough and open consultation with workers around safety issues. The basic premis is that no task should be undertaken unless it is deemed safe to do it and management must lead by responding to issues raised and supporting workers to address those issues. Whilst there must be commitment from the CEO, Board and senior managers it is the line managers who need to own safety and their performance should be measured accordingly.
Management of the Work Environment
The service provider is required to ensure as far is as reasonably practicable that:
- workplace layout and maintenance allow safe movement within and in and out of the workplace
- work areas have sufficient space to work safely
- floors and other surfaces are safe
- lighting is adequate for safe work, safe movement within the workplace and safe evacuation in an emergency
- if vehicles and pedestrians are in the same work area that suitable controls are in place to reduce risk
- ventilation that allows a worker to work safely
- if working in extremes of heat or cold, work is designed to reduce risk
- work in relation to or near essential services does not give risk to risk to health and safety.
- Adequate facilities for workers including toilets, drinking water, washing facilities and eating facilities must be provided and maintained in good working order and be clean, safe and accessible but give consideration to nature and location of work etc.
Providers need to have risk management systems to identify hazards to the health and safety of workers, clients and others and control the risks associated with those hazards. Hazards may arise from the environment in which the work is conducted, the activities being undertaken and the clients receiving assistance. Hazard identification, risk assessment (if required due tot he control measure not being obvious) and risk control strategies help the PCBU to do everything reasonably practicable to reduce the risk of injury and meet the duty of care requirements imposed by the legislation.
Tracking and undertaking trend analyes of records is also important to identify high risk areas and potential hazards not recognised until the review is undertaken. Whilst using the benchmark of lost-time injuries to benchmark with similar organisations is useful don't forget to track the less serious incidents as well e.g. medical treatment injuries and restricted work injuries. Just because you have a good injury management process and keep lost-tiem to a minimum it does not mean that the causes of these injuries should not be investigated and analysed as there may be a potential major injury lurking in the back-ground.
Think about implementing some health and wellbeing strategies to help workers prevent injuries in the first place. The Australian Government has a range of resources available on their Eat for Health website.
Training and supervision based on assessment of competence
The WHS Act requires employers to provide adequate information, training, instruction and supervision. This can generally be met by:
- Documented and available policies, procedures, care plans etc.
- Training plans for induction and skills training for tasks in the workplace
- Mechanism to assess worker’s use of equipment or work practices where risks are identified in the workplace
- Regular training on WHS areas such as manual handling, hazard identification, staff and management responsibilities, injury reporting, development of safe work method statements.
Clearly written and straightforward procedures can be used as the basis of the WHS Management System. Managers, supervisors, employees and volunteers all need information and instruction on what is required and what is in place. This same information can be streamlined to form the basis of an employee induction handbook to make sure people are information about how to work safely before they commence the job.
All documentation should be clearly identified as to the version number, date created and where relevant date reviewed. A document control history should be retained.
Part of the documentation involved in the WHS Management system is a number of records which are created to record activities or incidents and these should be retained according to the following timeframes in either hard or soft copy.
Record Keeping Timeframes
The following WHS records to be kept for 5 years unless otherwise specified:
- Training and formal qualification licences / certificates. (For the term of the employment of the staff member + 5 years)
- Health monitoring including audiometric testing - term of employment + 5 years
- Workers compensation files. (For the term of the employment of the staff member + 5 years)
- Incident report forms
- Accident investigation reports
- Meeting minutes
- Internal and external audit reports
- Environmental monitoring including noise assessments
- First aid records
- Contractor agreements
- Safe working procedures
- Workplace inspections reports
- Plant and equipment maintenance records in accordance with manufacturer’s specifications (for the life of the plant and equipment + 5 years).
- Electrical maintenance records (tag and test) of electrical articles and electrical installations till next testing.
Injury Management and Workers Compensation
Commitment to good workers compensation and injury management practices demonstrates to employees that they are valued team members and also helps to meet legislative requirements and reduce costs.
Monitoring and Review
Part of your WHS Management System should include the regular review of your policies and procedures to ensure that they are functioning as designed. This can include a quality assurance regular review of all documented policies and procedures in consultation with relevant staff but can also include an WHS audit of your system. This audit can be conducted by an external WHS auditor but can also be conducted internally by relevant staff. Attached is a sample audit form based on the Australian Standard 4801 which can be utilised for internal audits.
Attached is also a sample WHS Management system calendar which can be used to check off that the main WHS activities are completed as required.
The above issues can be documented in the form of policies and procedures which would form the basis of an WHS Manual which can be accessible to all staff either on an intranet or in a staff handbook. NDS offers the WHS Module of enableHR as a member benefit. This module provides easy access for incident and hazard reporting as well as all relevant policies, procedures and templates.
Model WHS Act
Model WHS Regulation