Everyone has the right to a safe working environment, and employers in Australia must ensure that their workers are not put at risk. But how can safety management software help?

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Australia ranks as one of the safest countries for workers globally, but accidents —and even fatalities— occur in the nation’s workplaces every year. Improving work health and safety (WHS) in Australia is an ongoing process that requires everyone to play their part. This includes researchers and policymakers, legislators, employers, and employees.

The benefits of better WHS are clear: fewer injuries and illnesses, a happier and healthier working population, fewer days off work, and a more prosperous country overall. Safe Work Australia, the body that leads policy development in this area, estimates that:

Australia’s economy would be $28.6 billion larger each year and 185,500 more jobs would be created in the absence of work-related injuries and illnesses. In addition, Australian wages would increase by an average of 1.3% each year.”

In this article, we explore the legislation around WHS in Australia, some common workplace safety risks, and how employers can use safety management software to improve their WHS record.

What is the current WHS legislation in Australia?

WHS legislation varies by state, but there is a common nationwide framework. Safe Work Australia has established a set of model WHS laws, which have been adopted in the commonwealth and most states and territories since 2011. Regulation of work health and safety then falls upon the relevant state or territorial bodies, and there are some differences in how the model laws have been implemented.

In broad terms, WHS laws specify who is responsible for health and safety in the workplace, with employers and employees in Australia having certain obligations. Employers must ensure the safety of their workers and that other people, such as visitors or suppliers, are not put at risk. In practice, this includes (but is not limited to):

  • providing a safe environment
  • ensuring that machinery and equipment is safe to use
  • providing relevant training or instruction
  • monitoring workplace conditions for health and safety risks

Employees must act responsibly by taking care of their own and others’ safety and following any WHS instruction they have been given, among other obligations.

What are common workplace health and safety risks?

Workplace risks vary by industry and job role. Safe Work Australia provides detailed statistics on workplace safety incidents, which reveals the type of activities that are more likely to lead to an incident.

Vehicle collisions were responsible for the most workplace fatalities in 2021 (38%) followed by being hit by moving objects (14%) and falls from a height (11%). 

The occupation with the largest fatality rate in 2021 was machinery operators and drivers, with 8.2 fatalities per 100,000 workers. This is followed by labourers (2.9 fatalities per 100,000) and managers (1.4 per 100,000).

The riskiest industry category was agriculture, forestry and fishing. This had the most fatalities in 2021 (10.4 per 100,000 workers) as well as the most serious claims for workers’ compensation (which relate to an absence of one week or more) at 11.1 claims per million hours worked.

The number of serious claims shed some light into how workplace health and safety incidents occur. Three types of accident represented three-quarters of these claims: body stressing (37%), falls, trips, and slips of a person (23%), and being hit by moving objects (16%).

What are the benefits of a work health and safety management plan?

Managing WHS can require significant resources. Companies may need to invest in safety equipment, replace unsafe facilities or machinery, hire experts to monitor and manage safety, and dedicate time for training, oversight, and reporting.

To stay on top of the many aspects of WHS —even in a small business— employers should have a safety management plan in place. This sets out the company’s WHS goals, procedures, and policies, and provides an overall blueprint for everyone who is involved in maintaining good standards of occupational health and safety.

You should always consult the relevant authorities in your jurisdiction when drawing up a safety management plan for your organisation, but this 52-page template for a safety management plan from Comcare is a good example. It includes, for instance, sections on the responsibilities of various stakeholders (employers, employees, visitors, etc.); what to do in the event of an incident; and specific guidance on risks such as asbestos, electrical safety, and processes like welding. 

Crucially, a safety management plan specifies the safety documentation that must be created, read, signed, and stored for the various processes that a business carries out. Document management, therefore, makes up a significant element of safety management.

What is a health and safety management system?

Digital tools exist to help SMEs manage work health and safety more efficiently. Specifically, safety management software digitises many previously paper-based processes and includes a range of useful features, including:

  • Incident reporting: Safety management software allows employees to record incidents that occur on a job (or en route to a job site) from anywhere. They can also update information relating to incidents. Plus, the company has a central record of incidents for auditing and reporting purposes
  • Safety risk assessment and management: The software provides a single repository to collect and analyse the key information pertaining to organisational risk. It gives those responsible for WHS a real-time view of safety across various field locations, especially useful for companies with multiple sites.
  • Nonconformance tracking: Managers can see at a glance which documentation exists at which location, and which people have signed (or not signed) the relevant forms.
  • Corrective and preventive actions: Allows managers to investigate the root causes of errors in products or processes and begin to remediate. They can also take steps to prevent these mistakes happening in the future.

In summary

Safety management software can help small to midsize enterprises in Australia to meet their legal obligations under work health and safety legislation. Most significantly, it helps organisations digitise the many different types of documentation required to manage health and safety. Then, monitoring, reporting, and analytics features allow managers to track safety performance from a single source of truth rather than sifting through paperwork, or email attachments. This streamlining of safety documentation can help companies meet (and exceed) their WHS goals by reducing administrative overheads.

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