Many small businesses think there is a legal requirement to write down their health and safety (H&S) efforts on paper. While this can be useful for some businesses, it’s not legally required and much simpler systems can work better.
Basically, H&S plans and tools are only useful if they help you keep on top of what’s going on in your business.
They might include anything from a calendar alert that reminds you when vehicles need a Warrant of Fitness to a diary to jot down workers who have forklift licences.
Having strong H&S tools will streamline your business. What’s more, these processes are essential for investigating — and learning from — H&S incidents or near misses.
Read on to figure out how to approach H&S plans and tools, as well as what to do when incidents do happen.
If it’s practical to put your H&S information down on paper, then do it. If it’s more useful to do it through other means, eg pinning up a laminated image of how to safely use machine guarding instead of expecting workers to read a complicated instruction manual — do that instead.
Great practice is to do what works best for you and your workers. What’s absolutely important is for you to have an H&S culture that’s open, honest and collaborative. This will get everyone at work actively thinking and learning about H&S. It’ll also give them ownership of it so they all do what they need to.
Outside of these day-to-day processes it’s also a good idea to have:
Pete notices very few people at his work look over their shoulders when reversing the forklift, even though it’s part of their training. This observation is backed up by the fact that all the paint on the back of the forklift has been scraped off, while the paint on the side is fine.
He brings up his concern with his supervisor, Hemi, who asks him what he thinks should be done about it. Pete doesn’t know, but thinks someone will have a good idea if they put it to all staff.
At the next day’s toolbox talk, Pete and Hemi say what they think is happening and ask all the warehouse staff what they think should be done. There’s a lot of talk between the drivers. At one point, Tom jokingly suggests anyone spotted reversing the forklift without checking over both shoulders should have to buy chocolate for the team.
While Hemi isn’t sure this is the best approach, everyone else thinks it’s a brilliant idea. By the end of the week Chris, Sione and Rob have all had to go to the dairy down the road to buy treats for the team.
A week later, the problem has disappeared and Hemi is happy they managed to come up with a neat solution to what initially seemed like a difficult behaviour to change.
It’s unrealistic to expect your work will always be 100% healthy and safe. Injuries, illnesses, incidents and near misses can — and do — happen. It’s important that when they do happen, you and your workers take the time to review and learn from them.
Depending on the nature, severity and complexity of the incident, learning from an H&S incident might be as simple as chatting to staff afterwards so you can all try to figure out what went wrong — and what can be done about it.
A more formal way to do this would be to keep an incident register and to use it as part of your in-house follow-ups.
To get ideas on how to investigate incidents and prevent them happening again, read WorkSafe’s Accident investigation form (external link)
The WorkSafe website lists all the notifiable events (external link) and incidents that must be reported if they occur.
If you do want to keep an incident register, you should include:
Alongside these events, you should also outline:
Apart from recording incidents in the register, you should also:
But it’s just as important to consider occupational illnesses that might relate to issues like noise, air quality and fatigue.
Apelu works in manufacturing and often does manual tasks on the factory floor and in the loading docks. When he notices his back hurting he wonders if he can ease the pain with massage alone. As he’s not aware he is supposed to tell his boss, Matalena, about injuries and pains, he doesn’t mention it to her.
After a month Apelu’s pain hasn’t left. In fact, it’s much worse. Apelu’s friends tell him to go to the doctor, who determines it’s a work-related injury caused by improperly lifting heavy objects. Massage alone is never going to fix it. The doctor treats Apelu and fills out the injury claim forms he needs to give to his boss.
Matalena is surprised to read about the extent of Apelu’s injury and that he’s had the symptoms for over a month. Apelu now has to be off his regular work duties to receive treatment. This costs Matalena in terms of lost productivity, and because Apelu has to be reassigned to tasks he can manage with his back.
Had Matalena explained to Apelu that all pains have to be reported, the issue could have been addressed early and it’s likely he never would have had serious back pain. Had Matalena also arranged for Apelu to receive effective H&S training when he first started, he probably would have learned proper lifting techniques and never injured himself in the first place.