Employers, here are the five major work health and safety mistakes you could be making

24 November 2017

Assuming that compliance equals bureaucracy is just one of the five main mistakes employers are making when it comes to workplace safety, says Occupational Health and Safety Services (OHSS) lawyer Alena Titterton, Clyde & Co Partner.

Achieving legal compliance is something that can be managed in the background as part of the process of collaborating with workers in developing more streamlined and practical health and safety managements systems”.

This being that concepts of legal compliance and practical safety management are often pitted against each other, but they are not mutually exclusive.

According to Titerton, the other four major Work Health and Safety (WHS) mistakes that employers are making are:

  1. Not considering the ramifications which could result from organisational change: Titerton posits that “many organisations will charge ahead without thinking through safety ramifications of strategic changes, reacting when it’s too late”.

    Contrastingly, for risk management to be productive in changing circumstances, there needs to be an assessment of whether safety systems and control measures are still effective.

    A failure to appreciate and plan for change is a consistent aspect of the story told in a significant number of serious incidents we investigate”.

  2. Not managing organisational overlap proactively: A significant amount of risk arises where an organisation’s operations overlap with others. It is therefore imperative that in the areas of operations where multiple parties intersect, strategies to manage the overlap are implemented.

    Failing to proactively manage who is responsible for what in the area of overlap leads to misunderstandings and often gaps between systems, leading to incidents

  3. Not exploring success stories: Titerton suggests that the majority of safety conversations are negative, considering most investigations only happen after a serious incident.

    It would be more beneficial for organisations to spend more time learning from the success when things go ‘right’ rather than ‘wrong’ as “this can lead to greater engagement and understanding around what really works for safe outcomes in practice”

  4. Thinking that all safety people ‘do’ safety: Failure to effectively implement part or all of the safety risk management process is a common theme in WHS prosecutions.

    Indoctrinating a proactive safety risk management culture throughout an organisation is fundamental”.

Titerton has also reiterated the importance of thinking about safety not subsequent to the incident, but in anticipation of. This being that legal liability can be minimalised first by organising a “due diligence refresher briefing for the board and executive team, and review the adequacy of corporate governance frameworks for health and safety”.

Second, by conducting WHS compliance audits and closely identifying gaps that may have arisen through such an audit.

Third, by organisations reviewing investigation and incident-response protocols to ensure that they comply with site preservation laws across the jurisdictions and capture incident notifications.

Further, Titteron suggests that employers should develop a “fast coordinated response protocol” for notifying regulators of incidents immediately, as failing to notify of an incident is an aggravating circumstance that can influence a regulator’s decision to prosecute for more serious duty of care offences.

There have been at least 33 prosecutions for failure to notify an Australian health and safety regulator of a notifiable incident since April 2015, an unacceptable statistic considering that in “the first 24 hours of incident response, investigation and evidence gathering is critical”. It is simply another mistake employers are making, and an activity which needs attending to says the Clyde & Co partner.

Ultimately, Alena Titterton’s message is simple – “The Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) laws have been in place for over five years in a number of jurisdictions around Australia. If your organisation has not attended to the [aforementioned] activities in the last two years, it is time to take action to minimise legal liability