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Health and safety: Involving everyone at work

It’s a myth that small businesses are exempt from health and safety laws — the new rules apply to all businesses, large and small, high risk and low risk.

You and your workers must all be involved in keeping people safe and healthy at work. For some, this means there is effective communication throughout the business. What does it mean for your business? 

Everyone who goes to work deserves to come home healthy and safe. One of the best ways to do this is to get everyone involved in spotting risks, raising concerns and talking about practical ways to improve health and safety (H&S).

No matter how big or small, all businesses must make sure workers can contribute to H&S decisions. How this is done depends on your industry and your workers. What works well for some will not be suitable for others.

Workers are the eyes and ears of a business. They know the potential risks and what makes their work more difficult. It’s good for you to know about these challenges, as trying to avoid them is how people sometimes take unsafe shortcuts.

“All workers, from the frontline to management, who carry out work for a business must have reasonable opportunities to participate in improving work health and safety,” says Chris Jones, WorkSafe’s manager of strategy.

“When you are talking about work-related health and safety risks, make sure you involve the workers who are, or are likely to be, directly affected.”

If your work has regular H&S meetings and workers rarely speak, it’s probably a sign you need to run these differently. What’s important is that everyone has a chance to freely say what they think, and that you consider and respond to their suggestions.

Working together: H&S talks that matter (external link) — WorkSafe

Hold talks where the risks are located if possible.

Hold talks where the risks are located if possible.

This makes it more realistic and easier to show the right H&S practices and equipment, as well as any potential mistakes.

H&S representation for small businesses

Health and safety representatives are a tried and tested way to involve your workers in finding the best H&S solutions. Another option that might suit your business is to have an H&S committee.

Some businesses must arrange elections for H&S reps if asked to do so. These businesses either:

  • have 20+ workers
  • are classed by law as high risk.

However, you can still agree to an H&S rep, even if legally you don't have to.

It’s a good idea to see your workers as part of the solution. Their knowledge of their day-to-day work means they are often best placed to identify risks — and potential solutions.

What risk looks like in your industry (external link) — WorkSafe

Have you hired someone from overseas in the last two years?

The law says you must take “reasonably practicable” steps to minimise risks. What does this mean?

The law says you must take “reasonably practicable” steps to minimise risks. What does this mean?

It’s about taking responsibility for what you can reasonably be expected to control.

What is reasonably practicable and what isn’t

This is a text version of the visual guide. It's aimed at people who use screen readers, or who prefer to take in information by reading.

Health & safety (H&S) talks are about the business and workers learning from each other to keep everyone safe and healthy at work. It’s essential to engage with workers and have ways for them to participate in H&S on a regular and ongoing basis. Not only is it good for performance and productivity, it’s the right thing to do. Follow these tips for great H&S conversations.

Make it worker-led

Your workers are the eyes and ears of your business and may know about H&S risks and issues you aren’t aware of. Encourage them to speak up and offer suggestions and solutions. If they can share their stories, give demonstrations and call out issues, they’ll know they’re valued and you’re all in it together.

Be hands-on and practical

Let workers see and try out how things actually work day-to-day. Bring tools to your talks. Show workers the safe and right way of using them, and let them have a go. If possible, hold talks where the risks are located.

Share stories, not numbers

Numbers don’t tell the whole story. Share real-life stories – of the good and the bad. Say what happened before, during and after an incident. Use stories from your own business or from the news.

Hear issues, reward behaviour

Encourage your workers to feel comfortable telling you about risks or issues. Thank them. Act on it. At the next talk, explain what’s been done. Also recognize when H&S is done well. Give a prize or award, or simply share the good story and say “nice work”.

Consider language and culture

H&S talks need to suit the audience. Ask workers how best to communicate with them. Think about the language, the type of words, and who delivers the messages. Use photos and real tools. Chat about it to check everyone understands.

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