What Does a WHS Management System Look Like?

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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
    • training
    • consultation
    • 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.

WHS System DocumentsDiagram 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.

WHS – let’s keep it simple!

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Work health and safety sometimes develops a life of its own in a business. However, it’s so important to make the system relevant to your business. If you run a small business with a handful of staff and low to medium risks, you probably do not need hundreds of documents in your system!

Let me help to keep WHS in perspective as an integrated part of your operations.