Managing work health and safety

We cover everything your business needs to know to ensure the wellbeing of your staff, customers, and visitors.

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Monday, Jun 17, 2024

Occupational health and safety is never something an employer or business owner can take for granted.

Not only is it a legal requirement in Australia with stringent health and safety standards that must be followed at all times—good work health & safety can also actively bring benefits to your business.

In this article, we'll explore everything you need to know about managing health and safety at work and what it can look like for employers and business owners in Australia.

What is work health and safety?

In the discussion about work health & safety, it's important to acknowledge that wiping out all health and safety risks is a near-impossible task for most businesses.

The goal of the health & safety precautions and processes you put in place should be to continuously manage the health hazards and safety risks that are bound to arise in your workplace at some point in time.

Health and safety at work with a safety harness

Who is impacted by the safety of your workplace?

The usual suspects are your employees, managers, and yourself as an employer. But what can get forgotten is that your health & safety responsibilities apply to your customers, visitors to your workplace, your suppliers, members of the public, interns, and workers on trial at your business.

Effectively, any individual that may be affected by your business must be protected.

Work health and safety laws

A critical component of running a business and being responsible for its continued safety is aligning your operations with WHS laws and the guidelines of the regulatory bodies that enforce WHS laws.

The main piece of federal legislation that governs the Commonwealth jurisdiction of Australia is the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth) (WHS Act). The Act places a duty of care obligation on employers for the protection of employees and any others who its activities may affect.

This legislation applies to all businesses regardless of their size and location. However, depending on the state your business is in, you may fall under a WHS Act that doesn’t apply the model Commonwealth legislation.

Specific requirements of the WHS Act include obligations to:

  • Provide safe and healthy working environments for all employees
  • Identify and assess health & safety risks
  • Eliminate or minimise those risks and implement risk control measures
  • Provide employees with adequate information, training, and supervision
  • Continuously monitor the wellbeing of employees and the safety of the workplace

On top of the Work Health and Safety Act, different states and territories around Australia also maintain their own health and safety laws relevant to their jurisdiction. This means businesses in Queensland may have different obligations in comparison with a company based in Victoria.

People being taken over health and safety training

Who is responsible for maintaining a safe workplace?

Work health and safety is everyone's responsibility. But it starts with the individuals leading your company and employees.

As an employer or business owner, you hold a duty of care. The role you play in the health & safety of your business—no matter how big or small—is significant.

Your staff's WHS responsibilities

Outlining the safest processes that members of your staff should follow is just one step in the process.

Your teams have a responsibility to manage risks and ensure their own health & safety, as well as those around them.

Empowering your team to uphold health & safety at work

Providing your teams with the resources and information they need to maintain their own physical and mental health, as well as the health & safety of their coworkers is part of your obligations as a business owner/employer.

Having your health and safety paperwork in order—including risk assessments and SWMS—is important, but if you don’t regularly consult and train your staff the likelihood of a risk or hazard impacting your employees and workplace is high. Keeping all necessary personnel aware of safe working practices helps you avoid worst-case scenarios.

A person being shown how to safley lift a box

The benefits of robust health & safety practices

We mentioned earlier that strong health and safety processes are more than just a legal requirement to follow WHS laws.

It also:

  • Helps improve productivity by giving employees set procedures they can follow
  • Reduces sickness absences as a result of better physical and mental health practices at work
  • Increases retention and staff morale as staff feel protected and cared for at work
  • Reduces costs of insurance premiums, workers compensation claims, and onboarding new employees as retention soars
  • Helps you build a better reputation with high standards for safety, work health, and staff training

What is a health & safety risk?

A workplace health and safety risk is the probability that harm may befall someone in your workplace as a result of being exposed to a hazard.

As an employer, it's your duty to identify and manage these risks through thorough risk assessments and stringent health and safety measures.

Some risks cannot feasibly be eliminated from your workplace. In these circumstances, it’s important to share ideas about how your workers can reduce their exposure to the hazard as far as possible and the measures they can take to stay as safe as possible.

2 people carrying out a health and safety inspection

Factors to consider when assessing risks

When it comes to health and safety you need to act quickly to protect your employees and your workplace from harm.

Some questions to ask yourself include:

  1. How serious is this risk and what could the outcome be if immediate action isn't taken?
  2. What are the control measures in place and are they effective?
  3. What can be done to eliminate or minimise the risks?

How can you manage risks in the workplace?

There are multiple ways health and safety risks can manifest in the workplace. From physical risks that can cause injury or death, in some circumstances, to psychological risks that can affect your employees' wellbeing. Psychological risks can be exacerbated by things like bullying and harassment.

Some effective control measures, include:

  • Ensuring employees are getting sufficient breaks
  • Providing staff members with regular training and support relevant to carry out their role safely
  • Creating and sharing safe operating procedures with your employees and making sure they're read and followed to minimise health and safety risks when those risks cannot be eliminated
  • Ensuring emergency measures are put in place and making sure employees know what to do in an emergency
  • Continuously creating risk assessments and monitoring hazards
  • Creating near-miss reporting processes to prevent them from escalating into full-blown incidents

A document being written up due to a workplace incident

How BrightSafe maintains your workplace safety

Hands-on support with legal compliance

WHS laws are consistently evolving, as they should, to match the risks and hazards posed to current businesses and employees.

For example, towards the end of 2023, a recommendation by Safe Work Australia to ban the use of engineered stone to protect from silica dust was agreed upon by WHS ministers. Updates like this lead to increased obligations for your business to make sure your business is not in breach of these laws.

BrightSafe comes complete with a 24/7 advice phone line to offer you further information about meeting your health and safety obligations and staying on top of ever-evolving laws.

Easy-to-use mobile app

Depending on how your business operates, flexibility is a must-have. Especially when it comes to urgent matters like health and safety management.

The BrightSafe On The Go app lets you log risks, hazards, and near misses in real-time. So, you can keep your employees informed and assign responsibilities even while you're on the move. You can also review risk assessments, track safety tasks, view and accept SWMS, and complete e-learning courses from anywhere.

Hanaan Parkinson-Ramsbottom

Health & Safety Advisor

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