“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John Augustus Shedd; 1928).
Just as a ship must take calculated risks to be productive, workplaces must also manage risks effectively to be productive.
So what is the difference between good risk management and negligence?
The key lies in effective consultation with workers to identify hazards, particularly before they cause harm, implement appropriate controls and review those controls for effectiveness.
Assessing the likelihood and severity of harm for each identified hazard will also help workplaces to manage multiple risks, prioritising them and directing resources to those that may cause higher levels of harm.
Safer workplaces are achievable. Ask us how.
Like any business system, a WHS (Work Health and Safety) management system is an organised way to coordinate resources and activities to achieve business objectives.
WHS objectives relate to the elimination or minimisation of health and safety risks to workers. Success here can also reduce business costs, enhance productivity and protect businesses and senior leaders from prosecution under health and safety legislation.
An effective WHS management system will demonstrate the following characteristics;
- A public and consistent commitment from senior leaders
- A planned approach to health and safety, including policies and procedures and other system documents
- A range of programmed activities, such as;
- workplace inspections
- internal audits
- …and many more!
- Performance indicators and measurable targets, which are measured and monitored, and
- Management review of the system, through data from many sources, including;
- performance against targets
- consultation activity
- hazard, near-miss and injury reports
- workplace inspections
- various registers (e.g. plant; chemical etc.)
Effective management review leads to improvements across the system. This cycle is what people refer to as “continuous improvement”.
A WHS management system is described through a number of “controlled” documents. In other words, these documents are officially approved, subject to regular consultation and review and their next review dates clearly recorded. This gives workers confidence in the reliability of the documents.
Diagram 1 shows the types of documents that you will find in a WHS management system. The lead WHS Policy is where senior leaders describe the commitment to the health and safety of workers.
The next layer of documents (especially in larger organisations) is typically procedural. General principles for managing hazards and processes are described in these documents. This is where you might read for example, about general principles for managing chemicals, equipment, risk of occupational violence or first aid and emergency requirements.
The next layer of documents are Safe Operating procedures (SOP), Job Safety Analyses (JSA) and other similar documents. These documents provide step-by-step guidance for undertaking tasks and are usually task or location specific. Some explicitly include a risk assessment of each step and specify controls. Other documents, such as SOPs, do not necessarily describe the risk assessment activity within the document.
System documents require some “outputs”. Outputs might be;
- behavioural (e.g. how duty holders fulfill their roles and responsibilities)
- system processes (e.g. hazard and incident reporting processes, identifying training needs etc.)
- registers (e.g. hazard; chemical; plant; asbestos and other registers where relevant)
- forms (e.g. procurement; risk assessment; vehicle use approval forms etc.)
- checklists (e.g. work site inspection checklists; pre-start checklists etc)
- records of implementation activity (e.g. induction, training and other activities) documentation.
These outputs are also useful as evidence that an organisation is managing WHS effectively. External/certification audits and health and safety prosecutions are scenarios where good quality evidence is critical.
Tips to make your WHS system effective
- Understand the kinds of hazards and risks that might arise in day to day operations. Consult with workers. They are usually very aware of workplace risks.
- Use straightforward language in system documents. Apart from varying levels of literacy, workers may be fatigued or preoccupied; so keep it simple.
- Don’t make policy commitments unless you are committed. Broken commitments from leadership undermines workplace trust and productivity.
- Where documents describe responsibilities, make sure there are mechanisms to support them and make sure there are mechanisms to confirm responsibilities are being met.
- Set a positive tone for hazard and incident reporting. Where workers have confidence in leadership, they will help you identify and fix gaps in your system.
- Give credit for input and effort that results in any health and safety improvements.
- Most of all, maintain the joint effort. Health and safety will progress from theory to embedded practice with some open consultation and maybe a bit of reward and recognition.
I was out walking on the weekend and saw 2 glaring examples of fall risks, less than 100 metres apart. The first image is of a pool construction site. The contractor is balancing on a very narrow ledge in front of the fence, approximately 2.5 metres above the ground. Whilst fall protection is not required in South Australia for potential drops that are less than 3 metres, there is still a duty of care to have safe systems of work. Moments before this photo was taken, the worker was leaning out mid-air over the upright reinforcing rods. OUCH!!
This second photo is of a homeowner doing some maintenance on the front of his home. His feet are approximately 4.5 metres above the ladder feet. The ladder feet are placed on a narrow step and the top of the ladder is not secured. Note he is not wearing any fall protection. A sideways or backwards fall for this enterprising homeowner could very well be fatal, given the terrain and hard surfaces below.
Take the time to look after your own safety. A life changing accident is no good for anyone!