10 Simple Steps to Improve Work Health and Safety
The average person spends 90,000 hours at work.
In the 20 – 35 years you are a part of the workforce, you will spend nearly 1/4 of your awake time at work.
Just let that sink in.
It’s a massive time frame to avoid injury. Safety requires constant vigilance; one slip up can affect the rest of your life. And I am not just talking about what’s left of your 90,000 hours.
Bad work health and safety practices will cost you, and no one should pay the price for bad workplace health and safety.
Work Health and Safety: Who Needs It?
I will be the first to admit, the postman doesn’t look as cool as he used to, the yellow cut out people at roadworks don’t really make sense, and the exit sign pointing out the 10 x 5 shed door probably isn’t necessary
You have to take the good with the bad. Modern society is fragile; however, fewer people are dying at work. That’s a good thing.
In the last three decades, you can see a noticeable decline in fatality rates of workers across the country. Despite its apparent benefits, workplace health and safety cops a lot of flack in Australia.
We love to focus on workplace health and safety gone mad. What we overlook is the massive success workplace health and safety has been.
“Me old man never had workplace health and safety, and he’s still kicking, why do we need it?” – hypermasculine idiot
Where Did Work Health and Safety Come From?
Australia modelled our health and safety laws after the Robens Report.
Way back in the 1970s, Lord Alfred Robens wrote a report on the state of health and safety in the United Kingdom. To put it simply, his report recommended that instead of government penning page after page of policy and procedure, they take a step back and let businesses and industry self-regulate.
“The Committee believed that excessive or overly detailed regulation could promote apathy, by encouraging employers and workers to relinquish their responsibilities, and think that safety and health was a matter for the government.” – NCBI
If you consider modern health and safety, there’s a strong emphasis on codes of practice and duties rather than overarching legislation that dictates how everything must be done.
“In the Robens’ vision, self-regulation involves workers and management, at a workplace level, working together to achieve, and improve upon, the health and safety standards prescribed by the state. The most important element in the Robens’ model of self-regulation was that “there should be a statutory duty on every employer to consult with … employees or their representatives at the workplace on measures for promoting safety and health at work, and to provide for the participation of employees in the development of such measures” – REGNET
The government sets standards and it’s the responsibility of a workplace to meet these standards. Understanding the logic behind this is important for keeping a workplace safe and meeting compliance.
The three tiers of the Robens Report
- general duties
- detailed provisions in regulations
- codes of practice
Work Health and Safety Key Concepts and Compliance
Duties are like responsibilities. Any PCBU, (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) is basically a duty holder if their decisions or actions affect, or could conceivably affect, anyone else. Duty holders can be managers but they can also be manufacturers, suppliers, installers, commissioners, repairers designers and more. You are also a duty holder by default if you exist in the workplace. The duty you hold is to ensure your own safety and the safety of everyone else.
Standards are published documents that cover best practices. They are intended to provide guidance. Standards are not mandatory unless there is a law that mandates follow them. In this big table, you will find the standards that the WHS laws mandate.
When the WHS laws say you must conform to specific Standards, a failure to do so may result in a breach of the WHS laws.
While not all standards are mandatory, all standards can be used as evidence of non-compliance in a court when a case is made against any PCBU accused of not meeting upholding their duties.
Codes of Practice
Like standards, a work health and safety code of practice does not have the force of law. It is not mandatory by default.
There are several codes of practice, called model codes of practice that under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, are admissible in court
The codes of practice are there to guide you towards safe practices. Often these codes simplify the complex WHS laws into actionable steps that you can follow. It is recognised that there could be better ways to ensure a safe workplace.
10 Simple Steps to Improve Work Health and Safety
1. Minimise Repetitive Tasks
Repetitive tasks wear us down. Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) is a type of injury common to fingers, hands, wrists and elbows. It is caused by repetitive movements or awkward postures. OOS is also known as repetitive strain injury or RSI.
In some cases, the consequences of repetitive manual tasks aren’t realised for years. Repetitive tasks contribute to musculoskeletal injuries. Musculoskeletal injuries can have a permanent impact not only on a person’s working ability and quality of life but also their productivity and the economic performance of the company that employs them.
Repetitive tasks are hazardous tasks. There are several factors that can make a task more of a hazard.
- repetitive or sustained force
- high-velocity force or sudden force
- repetitive movement
- sustained or awkward posture
- exposure to vibration.
So how can you minimise repetitive and hazardous tasks?
The first step is identifying the risk. Say you are strapping hundreds of boxes a day. The continual tensioning and crimping is a repetitive task. Performing this action day-in-day-out for years will increase the risk of strains or lasting musculoskeletal injury.
Consider the hierarchy of control when assessing the action you want to take.
Your first instinct might be to rotate the employee performing the task. Rotating jobs between workers as a way of managing risk is an administrative control. The hazard hasn’t be removed, and for this reason, this solution is lower down the hierarchy of control. Say the employee went on to do another job that requires the use of the same muscle group. They have not had time to recover. If the identified risk factor is fatigue, then the risk is still prevalent.
Gateway Packaging Health and Safety Recommendation
To eliminate the risk of repetitive strapping tasks, Gateway packaging recommends a battery strapping tool. Strapping tools like the LST 252, or for heavy industrial applications the TS-464, are an engineering control that will address the hazard. The repetitive tensioning and crimping actions are handled with a tensioning button and another button to complete a friction weld.
Gateway Packaging has identified that a strapping tool reduces the risk of
- muscle strains and sprains
- ligament or tendon rupture
- prolapsed intervertebral discs
- tendonitis of the shoulders and elbows
- carpal tunnel syndrome.
2. Go Beyond Your Industry Code of Practice
Not all codes of practices are mandated by law; they are all admissible in a court of law as evidence of negligence. The reasoning behind not making codes of practice law is that there is no definitive guide to safety. A code of practice can’t account for the unique risks in every workplace. They were deliberately not written into law, so that employers and employees could improve on them and go further than what was recommended.
“Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and do not cover all hazards or risks that may arise. Health and safety duties require you to consider all risks associated with work, not only those risks that regulations and codes of practice exist for.” – Safe Work Australia
Periodically discuss work health and safety with employees and co-workers to identify potential risks and work together to find solutions. Group discussion not only helps to build a safety culture, but it also will draw on the knowledge and experiences of multiple people who are all exposed to different risks throughout the day. These exercises will make members of the workplace more aware of safety and better at identifying risk.
The recent success in work health and safety came about as a result of self regulation and handling safety issues internally. Everyone has a duty to make their workplace safer.
3. Pass Down Knowledge
Mentoring is a professional relationship where a more experienced or senior colleague (mentor) uses their knowledge to support the development of someone less experienced (mentee). The mentee wants to develop skills and knowledge of something specific and is the driver of the mentoring relationship. The mentor encourages and challenges the mentee to look at issues from a variety of perspectives and focus on identifying solutions and decisions. Both mentor and mentee gain benefit from the mentoring relationship. – Comcare
Mentoring is an effective way of passing down work health and safety culture and information. When someone first enters a workplace or uses equipment that’s unfamiliar to them, they are more of a risk of injuring themselves and others. Establishing an effective mentoring program will help mitigate these risks.
“As an employer, you’re responsible for ensuring your workers are properly instructed and trained on how to do their work safely.” – Safework
Mentoring can also establish role models within a team. Another benifit is that employees are often more willing to discuss risks and problems in the workplace with a mentor than to broach the subject with their superiors. Mentoring isn’t just for new employees. Periodic, mentoring programs with outside experts or senior staff, can identify and correct current work health and safety issues that are unaddressed
4. Young Workers
Young workers can provide fresh eyes and a new perspective on a job. They are often willing to go that extra mile and are full of youthful energy that can revitalise a team.
Young workers have a unique risk profile to their senior peers. Often for the same reasons they are good to have around, young workers can be a danger to themselves and others.
The risk profile of young workers
- Eager to impress
- prone to risk-taking behaviour
- Have the least practical experience
Younger workers in the wrong safety culture are an accident waiting to happen.
Leadership is key?
You have a responsibility to carefully consider the tasks that you assign to your young workers. Have they been properly trained on all the equipment they are going to use? Are there steps that you could take to reduce the risk? Supervision and pairing a young worker with a senior mentor are both effective strategy.
Part of understanding the risk profile of a young worker is understanding that you can depend on their answers to questions about their own competency. It is true of all workers, but young workers are more likely to lie about their experience or abilities. They are trying to impress the boss or worried they will being fired if they don’t know how to change the blade on a saw.
5. Build a Safety Culture
The disregard for safety in the workplace, an unwillingness or inability for people to speak up, and inaction from supervisors and managers are some of the most common inhibitors of safety culture.
I don’t have the statistics to back it up, but building a safety culture in an office is easier than establishing one on a construction site or farm. It’s unfortunate because working on site is significantly more dangerous than an office.
Another cultural problem that’s difficult to address is that males are statistically way more likely than females to get injured or killed at work. Yes, on average males work in more dangerous industries, but there is still a lot to be said about how men deal with safety concerns.
In 2012, 96% of workplace fatalities in Australia occurred amongst men. Men aren’t as likely to seek help or report safety concerns. Men are also less likely to speak about work-related mental illness. I don’t need to explain why this is the case. We are all humans who live on earth. Men are told from a young age that they are tough, and they need to bottle up all their problems. The problem is that this toxic gender identity further attributes to the death rates in already dangerous industries such as mining, agriculture, construction, and fishing.
Not saying that these are exclusively masculine traits, but the statistics look bleak for blokes.
Steps to establish a safety culture
- Communication & involvement
- Mentoring & role models
- Safety targets or goal
6. Automate Risky Processes
In a developed country like Australia, labour is more expensive. Economists don’t have a clear cut theory for why this happens but the general consensus is that because of automation and higher levels of education our time is more valuable and productive.
Automation has emerged as one of the primary techniques for keeping costs down by bolstering productivity. Another advantage of automation that isn’t spoken about as often, is the work health and safety benefits automation brings.
Labour intensive work is often dangerous work as it leads to complications like musculoskeletal injuries. A machine can give you the strength of ten men. And unlike the body, when it wears out, you throw it away and get another one.
Gateway Packaging is a Strong Believer in Automation.
We stock an extensive range of the latest equipment and machines for automating labour intensive tasks across all industry.
- Pellet jacks
- hydraulic scissor lifts
- range of automatic strapping tools
These machines make a warehouse, site, or shed more productive and much safer.
When a smaller team can do more, fewer people are needed. This leads to cuts to staff. Why have ten people when you can do the same amount of work with three? These cuts to staff, are often directed as a criticism of automation, however, there are safety benefits to have a smaller leaner team.
What are these benefits, you ask rhetorically? Well, there is evidence that suggests that automation increases employee satisfaction. Employee satisfaction means less employee turnover. This, in turn, means you have staff who are more experienced with the machines they use. New employees are a greater risk. Therefore, automation leads to multifaceted improvement in health and safety, as well as, productivity.
7. Replace Materials with a Safer Alternative
Often a risk assessment will conclude that there are inherent dangers of using specific materials.
For example, a trend we have noticed is that businesses are switching from steel strapping to PET strapping. There are other factors driving this trend, like cost and presentation, however, a primary reason is that PET strapping is safer to work with.
Steel strapping has a tendency to snap. While it is uncommon when steel does snap it can be a real hazard.
As I am sure you are aware, steel strapping has sharp edges, and that’s why you need to wear gloves and eye protection when using it.
Referring back to the hierarchy of control, replacing steel strapping with PET strapping is a substitution. This risk management action is second only to removing the material. And since we need strapping, removal is unrealistic.
Steel strapping isn’t just a hazard in your place of work; it is a danger passed down the supply chain. There are also significant costs involved. If an entity upstream is using steel strapping than everyone who handles that package needs gloves and safety protection. Remember that as a supplier, you have a duty to whoever you supply.
8. Proper Equipment Training
It goes without saying, but employees that aren’t properly trained on the equipment they are using, are a danger to themselves and others. Understanding and being able to identify mechanical and non-mechanical hazards is incredibly important.
A mechanical hazard is a direct result of the movement or forces imposed by machinery. For example, rotating shafts, pullies, sprockets and gears, all carry a risk of entanglement. While the collision of hard surfaces results in a risk of crushing.
Non-mechanical hazards are unrelated or an indirect consequence of the use of machinery. These indirect hazards are often an indirect result of poor equipment use or training. What do I mean by that? Maybe someone didn’t clean the machinery properly, and now everyone is breathing in sawdust.
Once the mechanical and non-mechanical hazards are understood training can include measures to avoid or minimise the severity of the risk.
This work health and safety document, is a great resource for identifying and responding to hazards.
Personal Protective Equipment
Proper training includes an understanding of the required PPE for every machine that an employee uses. Several of the codes and standards included in WHS law mandate the use of PPE. Failing to adhere to these requirements can result in expensive fines, and PPE negligence will significantly increase the chances that someone is going to get injured.
Gateway Packaging on-site training
Gateway Packaging will come onsite and train staff on how to correctly use our automated strapping tools. While the risk associated with these tools is minimal, there are significant safety benefits to having a professional walk you through the tool’s operation. We have already identified the potential mechanical risks of our strapping machines. This is knowledge we can pass on to help you get up and running faster and safer ensuring that everyone is comfortable with the tool’s operation.
9. Source Locally
Australia is one of the best-performing countries in the world in terms of work health and safety. Buying locally made machinery and products comes with certain guarantees that you aren’t likely to get on products imported from countries that aren’t held to the same standards.
Chance are that if you traced that Australian product back, it too came from a factory in China. So why bother buying local?
Our legislation extends a WHS duty to suppliers, distributors and manufacturers. While you shouldn’t assume, when it comes to safety, Australian manufacturers and importers are accountable, just like you are, for what they supply to your workplace. They are legally accountable, and this should mean that they have done their due diligence. Ideally, an Australian company overlooked the manufacturing process to deliver a safer quality tool to the end-user. You don’t get any of these assurances when you buy straight from China.
Your employees depend on the equipment they use day-in-day-out. Malfunctions are paid for with injuries, and in the worst case senarios, lives. I am not saying that overseas products are all death traps. In the modern globalised world, and our service-based economy, it might not be possible or profitable to exclusively source locally. What I am suggesting, is that you don’t go cheap where it counts.
You know the old saying “a poor man pays twice. “
10. Never Stop learning and Refining Work Health and Safety
If you have made it this far, you must really care about workplace health and safety practices in your business. Well done, give yourself a pat on the back.
It’s important that you don’t stop your crusade to make the workplace safer. A single injury is one too many. It’s a continuous process. A WHS policy is never finished it’s only ever abandoned. There are always more risks that can be addressed. And the workplace is constantly changing. People come and go, and they take or bring WHS culture with them. In practice, you don’t have endless time and resource to allocate to keeping everyone safe. And obviously, it is a bit of a balancing act.
What you need is a commitment. It doesn’t matter if this commitment is written down or just an internal promise to yourself. If you continue taking little steps towards a safer workplace then it will happen. It doesn’t matter if those steps are reading more articles like this one and continuing to learn more and WHS, or refining and improving the existing policy and procedure of an organisation.
It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a manager. Every collective is made up of individuals. Even if you are a single person in a very large team. Your stance on workplace health and safety will make a difference. Maybe you remove a chair from the office when it breaks. Or take ten seconds out of your day to explain the emergency stop button to a new employee. It all adds up.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Thank you for sharing Gateway Packaging’s commitment to work health and safety. From our head office in Shepparton Victoria and our Melbourne warehouse, we provide a range of tools and machinery for strapping and packaging Australia-wide.
With decades of collective experience on the job, we take health and safety very seriously.
All of us here at Gateway Packaging are proud to say that our tools are designed to ensure the safety of their operators. Saving backs, time and money, wherever, however we can.