Key Work Health and Safety Messages

work health and safety

Business is under pressure more than ever! With costs increasing, deadlines looming and increasing time pressures. Work health and safety is changing and moving along at a similar pace. What are the key workplace safety issues? As a health and safety professional, how do you keep up with the latest research and innovative ideas? We thought we might try to alleviate some of this for you by summarising all that we have written about this year into one article with links to all of the critical information via the full previously published articles.

Work Health & Safety is a Strategic Investment

Traditionally, work health and safety has been measured by the impact to the business bottom line using lag indicators. There is substantial evidence that the costs associated with an injury or incident due to failures to ensure safety, far outweigh the costs of prevention. Additional costs connected to workplace injuries include negative publicity, reduced stakeholder sentiment and increased political pressure. These have knock-on effects that can lead to costly regulatory penalties, lost sales, increased cost of capital, diminished relationships with employees and suppliers.

Forward thinking organisations are railing against this outdated view justifying increased investment on strategic grounds. Rather than looking backward; they are looking forward. These organisations focus beyond merely health and safety compliance to introduce interactive training (they don’t just stop at the safety induction), 360 degree feedback, use of technology, empowering staff to think creatively and to problem solve.

Work Health and Safety Interventions that Work Best

We reviewed the research that investigated the most effective work health and safety interventions by the Regulator according to business activities and size. These findings came out of a review literature within a paper published by Safe Work Australia investigating the effectiveness of interventions by the Regulator.

  • Regulations: The introduction of new regulations is more likely to result in improved work health and safety outcomes for larger businesses, businesses that pay attention to regulations and businesses that have a positive perception of the regulator.
  • Inspections: Inspections can improve health and safety outcomes but they play different roles for large and small businesses – advisory and/or applying non-compliance sanctions.
  • Prosecutions: The research shows that prosecutions only have a small deterrent effect and that they resonate more with large businesses.
  • Guidance Material: Substantial guidance materials and codes of practice have been developed by work health and safety regulators. However, there is little evidence of their effectiveness in producing changes in behaviour.
  • Safety Campaigns: Campaigns are effective ways to improve safety behaviour, especially if coupled with enforcement and education.
  • Enforceable Undertakings: There is currently very little evidence regarding whether enforceable undertakings are an effective way of changing work health and safety practice and no evidence as to how they compare with prosecutions.
  • Voluntary Partnerships and Incentives: Voluntary partnership schemes may offer incentives to businesses to participate in the form of either financial rewards, access to information and support services or public recognition of excellent performance in the target area. Participation in the scheme needs to have an added value for business.

The Value of Work Health and Safety Training

Investment in WHS systems, practices and workplace health and safety training makes sound business sense. Investing in WHS can result in improved business performance and profitability by reducing Work Cover premiums, presenteeism, costs associated with workplace accidents and fatalities, return-to-work processes and labour costs associated with absenteeism and turnover. Managers have been known to overestimate the costs associated with the implementation of WHS interventions and undervalue the costs associated with WHS failure. Consumers and the wider community show an increasing willingness to punish businesses that are not socially responsible. When assessing WHS interventions, business is turning to a ‘balanced scorecard’ approach moving from a narrow economic focus of cost-benefit analysis to adopting a future-focused perspective.

Managers and Supervisors set the pace and shape employee perceptions of risk and their behaviours. The strongest predictor of occupational injuries is management commitment to safety. However, when faced with production pressures and threats of dismissal, employees are willing to forgo safety in order to meet production targets. WorkSafe is demanding businesses step up to improve their work health and safety performance. Workers who develop a stronger sense of the risks associated with their job are more likely to lead to better safety behaviours, that in turn leads to lower rates of injury.

CFOs and Accountants need to understand the critical interdependence that exists between financial and operational risk and place the strategic investment lens over the balance sheet when it comes to future health and safety spend requests.

Placing the Spotlight on Occupational Hygiene Hazards Exposure

Australian workers are regularly exposed to occupational hygiene hazards. Long-term exposure can create serious diseases such as black lung disease for coal miners,  permanent damage to hearing, spinal and back pain as a result of the impact of vibration by working on machines and using larger hand-operated tools and poisoning through handling chemicals. Any one of these can cause a serious reduction in health and long-term disability as workers age, but the Safe Work Australia findings from the National Hazard Exposure Worker Surveillance (NHEWS) survey show that it is not uncommon for workers to receive multiple co-exposures.

  • 62% of workers reported exposure to multiple types of occupational hygiene hazards
  • 20% reported exposure to at least five hazards
  • 25–34 years old had the highest odds of exposure to most multiple exposures
  • 25% reported that they had incomplete or no access to control measures for the multiple hazards that they reported being exposed to
  • High job demands (stress), and exposure to airborne hazards and chemicals were the most reported hazards

Young labourers, technicians and trades workers were most at risk of multiple exposure to occupational hygiene hazards. Young workers are particularly vulnerable because of their inexperience and lack of knowledge about hazards at work. Tap into Safety provides specific training in hazard perception that is particularly useful for younger workers because it offers interactive and engaging WHS training that is delivered via smart devices and online. This appeals to young workers who are generally comfortable with technology.

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