Many workplaces have hazards that place workers at risk of injury or harm to health. Managing safety and health is as much a part of running your business as finances, taxes, licences, employing staff and production.
Following the risk management process outlined here, can assist you to meet your obligations for a safe and healthy workplace.
A serious commitment to safety and health starts with identifying all the things that could lead to injury or harm to health. To do this, you need to know what hazards to look for.
Common hazards at workplaces include:
- manual tasks and ergonomics – manual tasks hazards are activities that could cause damage to the muscles and/or skeleton. They include lifting heavy objects, handling of people, animals, goods or materials, repetitive movements, having an awkward posture or the same posture for a long period of time and using plant, tools or equipment that vibrate. ‘Ergonomic hazards’ means things like workstations, workbenches, computer screens and seats that result in workers adopting unsafe working positions and/or actions;
- mobile plant, equipment and vehicles – for example, potential situations where workers and visitors could come into accidental contact with cars or forklifts;
- electricity – electrical hazards may include activities that could cause sparks and start a fire, cords, plugs and sockets in poor condition and live electrical wires;
- working at heights – ie activities where there is a risk of a fall, for example from an unguarded edge;
- slips, trips and falls – risk factors that may lead to a trip, slip or fall, including the movement of people through the workplace, the working environment (for example, wet or slippery floors and steps), poor housekeeping and inappropriate footwear;
- mechanical hazards – this means plant, equipment and items (and parts of them) that have the potential to cut, rip, tear, abrade, crush, penetrate, produce projectiles or cause sudden impact. This includes unguarded dangerous or moving parts of plant like cutting, grinding, pressing or rolling parts where there is a risk of contact.
- hazardous chemicals – this means chemicals (such as acids, solvents and heavy metals), dusts (such as asbestos and silica) and vapours (such as paint fumes) that could affect a person’s health (for example, cause respiratory illness, dermatitis or cancer). It also means substances that have physical or chemical hazards (for example explosive, flammable or corrosive substances);
- extreme temperatures – for example, situations where heat could cause burns, heat stroke or fatigue or cold could cause hypothermia or frost bite;
- noise – for example, situations where exposure to loud noise could result in permanent hearing damage;
- radiation – this includes ultra violet light, welding arc flashes, microwaves and lasers that could cause burns, cancer or blindness;
- biological hazards – for example, contact with microorganisms that could cause hepatitis, Legionnaires’ disease, Q fever, HIV/AIDS or allergies. For example, contracting a disease as a result of being injured by a syringe containing contaminated blood or breathing in small particles of bacteria from animal body fluids, which leads to the development of Q fever;
- unstable objects – ie objects and materials that could fall over or on top of people, for example overloaded racking;
- psychosocial hazards – this means workplace bullying, violence and aggression (from customers or staff) that could lead to psychological illness including work-related stress or work-related fatigue.
A piece of plant, substance or work process may have different hazards and each of these needs to be identified. For example, a production line may have mechanical hazards, noise hazards, electrical hazards and manual tasks hazards.
To identify safety and health hazards, work with your staff and contractors through the following actions:
- organise ‘walk through’ inspections of your workplace – look at the systems of work and work procedures, as well as physical items;
- list all the tasks/work activities carried out and break them down into a sequence of steps so that you can more easily spot any hazards involved;
- look at the ways in which different tasks/work activities may interact to cause a hazard;
- write down all the hazards you and your staff identify – you could record them on a form;
- look at past incidents and injuries in your workplace – you could use an incident report form to record these;
- look at information provided by manufacturers or suppliers of particular items of plant, equipment or chemicals, for example manufacturer’s instructions or manuals and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from manufacturers, importers or suppliers of substances;
- consult workers and contractors about any safety and health problems and near miss incidents;
- talk to other workplaces in a similar line of business or some similar processes;
- review information that is available on a hazard or work process – have a look at the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, which sets out specific requirements for some hazards, work activities, plant, registrations and licences and the working environment. See also WorkSafe’s checklists for hazards and industries and other information on WorkSafe’s website including codes of practice; and
- testing and measuring – some hazards, such as noise and contaminants in the air, may require measurement to see if they are present at harmful levels.
Keep a list of the hazards you have found (both where and when) so nothing is forgotten.
Workplace inspections – what to look for
Inspections are a good way to identify hazards and issues specific to your work environment and activities. You can either develop your own inspection checklist covering all work areas and tasks carried out in your business, or you could use one of WorkSafe’s checklists.
Things to look at in your inspections include:
- the working environment – does the work environment enable workers to carry out work without risks to health and safety ? Look at things like the floors, stairs, work benches, ladders, walkways, lighting and mezzanine floors. Consider the general state of housekeeping;
- tools and equipment – are they suitable for the task and how well maintained?
- changes to the workplace – have any changes occurred that might affect safety and health?
Other matters to look at include:
- manual tasks – ie tasks that involve lifting, handling of people, animals, goods or materials, repetitive movements, awkward posture or holding the same posture for a long period of time and plant, tools or equipment that vibrate;
- ergonomics – for example, the design of work stations, height of bench tops, desks and computer screens and seating;
- electrical – residual current devices (RCDs), the condition and location of cables, plugs, sockets and switches and tag out/lock out procedures to isolate plant;
- plant and equipment – for example, cutting, crushing and trapping hazards and unsafe conditions due to things like pressurised contents, flying particles, noise and hot or cold parts;
- machine guarding – ie barriers, guards and fencing around dangerous moving parts;
- movement of plant – for example, separation of moving vehicles from pedestrians including staff and visitors;
- chemical hazards – ie personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE), ventilation, labels, containers, storage, signs and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS);
- the workplace amenities – ie supply of drinking water, lunch rooms, washrooms and toilets; and
- emergency safety, including:
- an evacuation procedure;
- suitable emergency exits;
- fire fighting equipment and alarm systems;
- first aid supplies, facilities and whether there is a trained first aid person; and
- spill kits for managing chemical spills.
Hazards can change day to day, so carry out inspections regularly.
Take extra care when undertaking maintenance work, servicing, cleaning or repairs to plant or equipment.
New and inexperienced staff will require adequate supervision where they are unfamiliar with the work and/or the workplace.
Risk assessment is a process for developing knowledge and understanding about hazards and risks so that good decisions can be taken about controlling them.
To carry out a basic risk assessment, follow these four steps.
- Gather information about each hazard that you identify.
- Work out the likelihood of an accident or incident occurring. Consider how many people are likely to be exposed to each hazard and for how long.3. Assess the consequences. Use the information you have gathered to assess the potential consequences of each hazard. For example, could people:
- suffer major injuries (with significant long term effects);
- suffer minor injuries (usually requiring several days off work); or
- suffer negligible injuries (maybe needing first aid)?
- Rate the risk. Use the risk rating table below to work out the risk associated with each hazard.
When assessing how things may go wrong, look more broadly than the immediate effects. In many cases, incidents occur as a result of a chain of events and a failure of one or more links in that chain. Ask questions like:
- Could one failure lead to other failures?
- Is there something in the workplace that can be expected to cause the incident to become more serious? For example, a minor fire could be much worse if it occurs near materials that are flammable or explosive.
- Do the current methods for controlling the risks actual work?
- How is work actually done? For example, is work carried out according to the manuals and procedures or do workers actually carry it out differently?
- What situations arise every now and then, rather than regularly? What abnormal situations could arise?
Risk rating table
|Likelihood of injury or harm to health
||Risk rating table
|Consequences of any injuries or harm to health
|Insignificant eg no injuries
||Moderate eg first aid/medical treatment
||Major eg extensive injuries
||Catastrophic eg fatalities
|Highly unlikely (rare)
Controlling the risk
Take action to control the risks you have assessed, starting with those having the highest risk rating.
In deciding what controls to put in place, begin by trying to remove the hazard completely. If that is not practical, work down through the options as explained below.
Level 1 Eliminate the hazard – for example, if a solvent that is a hazardous substance is used to remove oil from parts coming out a press, remove the oil and you will eliminate the need for solvents.
Level 2 Minimise the risk of the hazard – examples and ways to do this may be:
- substitution – for example, use a non-flammable solvent in place of a flammable one;
- isolation – for example, move a noisy machine to a room of its own (if it is not practicable to buy a quieter one); and
- engineering controls – for example, install cut out switches, screens and guards.
Level 3 Ensure safe work practices and supply personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) if needed – examples and ways to do this may be to provide training on the hazard/risk and safe work procedures, introducing tag out/lock out procedures, and providing PPE. However, PPE should always be the last option. The Level 3 type of controls should only be used:
- when there are no other practical control measures available;
- as an interim measure until a more effective way of controlling the risk can be used; and
- to support higher level control measures (as a back up).
You may need to develop your own control measures if there the available information is not relevant to the hazards or risk or circumstances at your workplace.
Where the hazard or risk has the potential to cause death, serious injury or illness, your focus should be on a control that will eliminate or reduce an injury or harm occurring, rather than reducing the chance that an accident could occur.
Cost (in money, time and effort) is just one factor to think about when working out the best control option. The risk and seriousness of the potential injury or harm must be weighed up against the overall cost and feasibility of the safeguards needed to remove the risk.
When implementing controls, you will usually need to also:
- develop a safe work procedure that describes the task, identifies the hazard and outlines how the task is to be carried out to minimise the risk of being injured or harmed;
- train workers in the safe work procedure; and
- ensure there is adequate supervision so the new safe work procedure is followed.
Reviewing the controls
Once the controls to remove or minimise the risks have been put in place, you will need to monitor them to make sure they are actually doing what they should be. You will also need to check that the controls have not accidentally created another problem.
To make sure your controls are effective:
- make somebody at the workplace responsible for them and the relevant safe work procedures;
- regularly inspect, test and maintain plant and equipment;
- make sure safety and health training is up to date and, where required, have refresher training;
- check for new information about hazards you have identified and new technology so you are up to date on the best way to control risks; and
- have regular reviews of controls and work procedures in consultation with workers.
You are responsible for ensuring that all your workers have the skills, knowledge and experience to enable them to carry out their tasks safely.
As part of this, you will need to provide safety induction training when they start work. This needs to include a specific induction on any hazards to do with their work and the controls in place to remove or minimise them.
Providing supervision so workers are able to work safely is part of your responsibilities. New and inexperienced staff will require adequate supervision particularly where they are unfamiliar with the work and/or the workplace.
Getting specialist advice
You may feel that you need expert specialist advice from a safety and health consultant on an issue in your workplace. Before you contract anyone, make sure you know exactly what you want them to achieve.
If you do call in outside assistance, it will help reduce the cost to your business and make the consultant’s job easier if you have already gone through the steps of hazard identification, risk assessment and considered risk controls, as outlined above. That means you will already have identified safety and health hazards and tried to solve any problems. What you want the consultant to do is find solutions to the problems you and your staff have been unable to define and/or solve.
WorkSafe has developed checklists for the following general areas and industries. These will help you check that your workplace is meeting basic safety standards.
Although the checklists do not cover all the requirements under the safety and health laws, they will give you a better idea of whether you meet basic standards of safety. They will also assist you to lay the foundation for a safety and health management system in your workplace.
Certain types of injuries and diseases and deaths occurring in connection with work must be reported to WorkSafe.
Two key factors for successful safety and health management that only you can influence, as a business owner, are:
- leadership – as the owner, you need to demonstrate your commitment to safety and health by leading by example and providing the time and resources to make the changes; and
- involvement of staff – you need to get your staff to participate by encouraging and facilitating their involvement in identifying hazards and coming up with solutions to control the risks. Having processes for regular consultation of staff should assist in making the best use of their hands-on knowledge and expertise.
The following is provided as an example on the sort of things you will need to look at when you start a new business or buy an existing one. It is not a complete case study and is provided as a brief example to help you get started.
Mary and Joe have recently opened a café and hired two kitchen hands. Under the occupational safety and health law, they must:
- provide a safe working environment, as far as practicable, for their staff so they won’t get injured or harmed by any hazards;
- carry out a hazard identification and risk assessment and consider ways to remove or minimise any hazards;
- provide the staff with a safe system of work;
- train their staff on how to work safely; and
- provide information and supervision so staff know how to work safely.
One of the potential hazards Joe and Mary must look at is slips, trips and falls. For this hazard, they will need to look at the working environment and identify whether the floors and steps, potential spills of oil or liquids and/or movement of people around the café and kitchen could cause somebody to slip, trip or fall.
Where there appears to be risks of a slip, trip or fall, Mary and Joe must look at ways to eliminate or minimise the risks. Depending on the situation, they may need to:
- find a way of eliminating spills in the cooking areas, such as having a pump that moves oil without anybody handling it;
- install non-slip floors;
- use trolleys to transport containers with liquids;
- have procedures for frequent cleaning of floors; and
- install ramps to deal with a change in floor levels.
Whichever controls are implemented, Mary and Joe will need to provide instruction and training to the kitchen hands so they know what measures are in place to prevent them from slipping, tripping and falling and how to work safely.
As one of the kitchen hands will be helping with food preparation, knives will be another potential hazards that Mary and Joe must look at. They must:
- train the kitchen hand on how to handle the knives and chop safely;
- have a first aid box available and procedure on what to do if the kitchen hand cuts themselves;
- assess the risks and consider whether somebody at the workplace will need to have formal first aid training (in so doing they will need to consider what other injuries could arise requiring first aid); and
- consider the need for appropriate foot wear.
There will be other hazards that Mary and Joe will need to look at and address if there are risks, including manual tasks. For example, they will need to look at the safe way to lift and handle crates and goods.
The couple will also have to address general safety and health issues such as development of evacuation procedures, provision of fire extinguishers and safe entry and exit from the workplace.
To make sure all the common workplace hazards have been considered, work through the listing of types of hazards and check this website for information on what to do for ones that may be an issue. Depending on your industry, the website may contain a specific checklist on relevant issues.
You will also need to look at your specific workplace and see if there are any hazards or combination of hazards unique to your situation that will need to be addressed.
If you have already taken the steps outlined here, you may want to consider apply the occupational safety and health management assessment tool, the WorkSafe Plan, to your workplace. This can be used as a guide for establishing a formal occupational safety and health management system.
In Western Australia, it is compulsory to have a workers’ compensation insurance policy. If you require more information, contact WorkCover WA.