This article appeared in Issue 3#4 (May/June 2009) of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
As an employer, you are responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your employees while they are at work. Although this is generally an accepted fact for franchisees, not many truly understand their obligations and how to adequately fulfil these requirements.
Although injury prevention may feel like yet another extra cost on your franchise and an overwhelming exercise, not implementing injury prevention strategies can result in even more costly outcomes.
Of the 10.8 million working Australians, 6.4% experience work-related injuries every year. The cost of work-related injury and death is estimated to be at least $34 billion a year. The cost isn’t just financial. The human impact can be devastating for those injured and their colleagues, family and friends. You can’t afford not to implement a sound occupational health and safety (OHS) program at your workplace. In Victoria, for example, fines for breaches of safety duties are up to $920,250 for corporations and up to $184,050 and/or up to 5 years imprisonment for individuals. Other States’ penalties are on par.
And yet achieving compliance in OHS need not be complex or overwhelming. A good place to start is to gain an understanding about what the requirements are for you as the employer.
Understanding OHS legislation and obtaining guidance is important as franchising agreements are generally silent on this subject and Operations Manuals provide limited information, if any. Being in a franchise arrangement does not lessen the health and safety obligations of businesses. Health and safety legislation always takes precedence over the franchise agreement.
Each State and Territory in Australia has an OHS Act that outlines the duties of all those involved with the workplace. Franchisee duties are those of the employer. Generally, the duty of the employer is to “so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health”. In simple terms that means you must identify and address risks associated with employees’ safety. “So far as is practicable” refers to much more than the cost of a particular safety solution. Providing the highest level of protection for people against risks to their health and safety must always be your driving force when considering safety measures.
To further explain and stipulate or suggest specific requirements and options, particularly around hazard management, there are OHS Regulations, Compliance Codes and Codes of Practice. Codes of Practice often provide very clear and user-friendly information about how to comply with specific requirements of the legislation, so you are well advised to review all the Codes applicable to the hazards in your workplace. Other guidance materials such as Australian Standards and industry guidance notes can further assist you in developing and implementing effective OHS strategies.
Here are some the basic strategies to get you on your way to developing good health and safety practices in your workplace.
Develop Policy and Safe Working Procedures
Effective OHS relies on the involvement of everyone in the workplace. People need to know what their responsibilities for OHS are and what is expected of them whilst they are at work.
Commitment can be demonstrated through a written health and safety policy that is simple, easily understood and developed jointly with your employees. Don’t sign off unless you will implement it, as a signed policy has legal standing.
The policy should;
- acknowledge the owner as being ultimately responsible for safety;
- document health and safety responsibilities for(?) everyone in the workplace;
- commit to ongoing improvement (the objective should be no workplace accidents);
- be dated and signed by the owner;
- be displayed at the workplace;
- be shown to all employees and contractors.
In most States and Territories it is a legal requirement to have a health and safety policy.
Safe Operating Procedures outline how tasks are to be performed safely and define safety processes in the business. They document “how things are done around here” and are very useful for training employees and as ongoing reference materials. Written well and treated as “the rules” they make for high efficiency and quality. They are the basis for a strong safety culture.
Involving employees in the health and safety program is useful in creating stronger commitment and mutual accountability to the achievement of the business’ overall objectives, as well as its OHS goals.
Employees can be involved through briefing sessions, focus groups, toolbox talks and in some cases it may be appropriate to have a health and safety committee. Regular OHS information can also be provided on noticeboards, in newsletters, through memos and emails.
It is important that you talk with employees prior to making any significant change in the workplace that might affect their health and safety. Discussions need to take place as early as possible to achieve the best results.
The first step is to recognise the hazards in the workplace – find anything that may cause injury, illness or damage. Some hazards will be obvious because they’ll be common to the industry, but others won’t be.
To find hazards:
- walk around and look at the workplace;
- involve and talk to employees;
- use injury records to identify any trends that may show a problem exists. If there are no written records, make a start now.
Don’t overlook the things that people may have ’worked around’ for years and don’t just look for obvious hazards. A majority of workers’ compensation claims are for sprain and strain injuries so be sure to check any tasks where pushing, pulling, lifting, twisting or uneven surfaces are involved.
Assess the risk to determine the likelihood that a hazard may cause an injury. Consider how a person may be exposed to a hazard, for how long and how often. In some instances several hazards may be identified but the business may not be able to fix all of them at the same time. Risk assessment helps to create prioritised actions plans to fix them.
Prevention is the key. Don’t wait for someone to be injured, take action to fix identified risks. Here is a list of options, starting with the preferred methods first:
Removing the hazard
The best way is to remove the hazard. For example, replace faulty wiring or remove dangerous machinery. This should always be attempted first as it removes the hazard altogether.
Minimise the hazard
Where removing the hazard is not possible, the hazard should be controlled through substitution with a safer item or by engineering another solution. For example, replace the hazardous substance, machine or task with a safe one, or add guarding to cover dangerous moving parts of machinery.
Changing the way a job is done, for example developing and implementing safe procedures for hazardous jobs may also make a task safer.
Personal protective equipment, for example safety glasses, footwear and hearing protection, is least effective for removing hazards and should generally be used as short term control measures. Personal protective equipment should be used as a last resort and training must be provided to ensure employees can use and maintain it correctly.
Identifying and managing workplace hazards are important but there are some other processes that should be in place to ensure new problems do not occur.
Regular checks will enable changes occurring in the workplace to be identified and ensure that the standard of health and safety is maintained. The responsibility of fixing of any hazards that are identified needs to be delegated to particular individuals to ensure that the required changes are made.
Maintenance and repair
Preventative maintenance should be performed on all equipment and tools at the workplace.
User manuals provided by suppliers of your equipment should provide guidance on maintenance requirements. Where equipment or tools are damaged they should be tagged and promptly removed from use until repaired. Records of all maintenance and repairs need to be kept.
Reporting workplace hazards
Employees need to be encouraged to report any hazards they believe could cause an accident. A simple accessible form may facilitate this. Once reported there should be a process in place to ensure action is taken to remove the hazard.
Information and training
Employees should be provided with easy to understand information and training on how to do the job safely. Training commences with induction when an employee first starts at the workplace. Training employees may not be enough on its own and regular supervision should also be provided. Employees need training in the following areas:
- How to perform the job the safest way. A well constructed Safe Working Procedure is an excellent tool for this.
- The particular dangers associated with the job at the workplace, eg. the need to move heavy objects.
- The safe handling of equipment, machinery or products, eg. chemicals that may be used or produced.
- The use of safety equipment, eg. employees should be able to recognise when safety glasses or earmuffs must be used, and when they need replacing or repair.
- Emergency procedures.
- Reporting workplace hazards and incidents.
The level of supervision needed will depend on the experience of individual employees and the risk associated with the work. It is important to make sure that employees, particularly new employees, are shown and coached in how to do their jobs safely and correctly.
Incidents resulting in injury, illness or damage need to be investigated to determine the reasons why they happened so that similar occurrences can be prevented. A situation where someone was nearly injured should also be investigated. Consider what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
Recommendations should not concentrate on the actions of individual employees. It is important to look at the level of risk in the work environment, the safety processes, equipment and tools.
Planning for emergencies
You must consider what types of emergencies could occur in the workplace. These could include fires, medical emergencies or chemical leaks. In addition, the potential impact of such emergencies on the workplace and any adjacent premises needs to be well understood.
How to get out of the workplace in an emergency also needs to be planned and explained to all who work there as well as visitors. In addition, relevant employees will require specific training that may include use of fire extinguishers and equipment, first aid and personal security.
Safety Records and Information
Safety records including any documents relating to hazards in the workplace, training, maintenance, workplace inspections, first aid record books, chemicals safety data sheets and others need to be kept at the workplace.
The best way to ensure you maintain appropriate safety records is by identifying what records should be kept, where they are kept and how long they should be kept for.
Everyone in the workplace should be aware of the central point where the health and safety information is kept if ever needed. Some regulations have specific requirements for the retention of health and safety records and these may vary from State to State.
Lana Rubinstein is Principal Consultant at Risk Strategies and an expert in the field of Workplace Risk – a combined approach to safety and Workers’ Compensation. For assistance in developing and implementing safety and workers’ compensation management systems, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.riskstrategies.com.au