Introduction - safety for small business

It is easy to believe that incidents at work are unusual.  Serious incidents are the sort of things that 'never happen to you or in your workplace', however, unpredicted things can happen. A few measures or basic procedures can prevent an injury or fatality from occurring at your workplace.

Safety facts:

  • In Western Australia (WA), around two people are injured per hour seriously enough to take one or more days/shifts off work. This means around 51 injuries/diseases occurred per day during 2012-13.
  • An average of 4,241 people are hurt each year to the extent that they require 60 or more days off work.
  • The average number of days lost for severe lost time injuries and diseases in 2011-12 was 267 days.
  • On average one person is killed in WA as a result of a traumatic work related incident every 22 days.
  • 16 traumatic work-related fatalities were recorded in WA during 2013-14.

How does your workplace measure up?

Try this quiz to check whether you have done enough to protect yourself and those within your duty of care.

Start the test now! 

Keep your business safe with good workplace safety and health

As a small business operator, there are many things to think about in order for a business to survive and succeed. This may include responding to a competitive market, running of the day-to-day business and trying to save costs. These multiple focuses are not surprising, considering about one-quarter of Western Australian small businesses fail within their first five years. Safety and health may not be a priority over other critical factors for small business survival. Research in small business has shown the benefits of having a good safety and health practice, and the drawbacks if a business is unprepared for work related injuries and incidents.

Good safety and health offers many benefits

Examples of the benefits of good safety and health practice in small business are:

  • retaining employees and fostering their loyalty by ensuring their wellbeing;
  • increasing efficiency by reducing workplace injuries that holdup work activities;
  • avoiding business disruption;
  • increasing the chance of winning tenders or retaining contracts by meeting workplace safety and health requirements for some business clients;
  • contributing to increased sustainability of the family business by looking after the wellbeing of family members;
  • reducing business insurance based on a good safety and health record; and
  • avoiding financial burden from fines and other legal implications.

What may happen when you are not safe or unprepared?

Businesses with poor safety and health practices could cause harm to workers or in the case of a family business, family members. Additionally, the business may face financial burden and disruption. With already limited resources, a small business might face hardship if it has to deal with just one serious work-related injury or incident. In the case of a self-employed business, the business may have to shut down.

Court case – a consequence of inadequate safety and health practice

A small carrot packaging and exporting business in Wattleup was fined $33,000 and charged court costs of $1,178 by the Magistrates Court of Western Australia on 15 April 2014. In breach of sections 19(1) and 19(2) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 the business failed, so far as was practicable, to provide and maintain a working environment in which its employees were not exposed to hazards and by that failure caused serious harm to an employee.

On 6 May 2011 a forklift operator employed by the business was working in a pre-pack area. Her tasks were to operate the forklift to bring full carrot bins from the cool room to the bin tippers. While the forklift operator tried to lower and remove the bin to drain the hopper her right thumb was crushed by the bin cradle.

It took about 19 months before the forklift operator was able to return to her full duties. She recovered relatively well, but was left with permanent loss of function and motion in her thumb. Prior to the incident the forklift operator had been employed by the business for 20 years and had been working in the capacity of a forklift operator for between six to eight years.

The incident shows that while an experienced operator is valuable to the smooth running of the business, experience alone cannot be a substitute for a good OSH system. The assumption that daily work routines, quality of equipment, or experienced workers are sufficient to prevent work-related incidents, may not always work.

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