Insider tips

When it comes to exceptional health and safety know-how, our inspectors are your go-to people.

In this feature, seasoned SafeWork inspectors, Anthony Nicholson and John Mizzi, provide helpful tips and pointers.

John: One catchphrase I often tell clients is that if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth documenting. Work health and safety laws don’t require employers to document day-to-day activities such as worker consultation or training for most workplace tasks. However, documenting these things, as well as risk assessments, provides evidence they have actually been done. So if an inspector responds to a particular health and safety issue, then the employer will be able to show they have addressed the issue by producing a supporting document. I advise clients to get safety messages over to workers by holding a toolbox talk and document it, using templates from our website.
Documenting a toolbox talk does not need to be complex. All you need to do is simply note the date, attendees and key messages discussed with workers.

Anthony: Some employers will spend a fortune hiring a consultant to develop a health and safety system or buying an off-the-shelf one. Often, these are generic and not directly related to a specific business. Honestly, the best systems are ones developed by a business in conjunction with workers. It’s not rocket science, just a method of delivering simple safety messages, information and support to workers.

John: If you are documenting training or safe work procedures and recording a worker’s name to confirm they’ve been trained, then they are also more likely to comply.

Anthony: The idea is to keep it simple and not to over-complicate it.

John: If you are unsure how to document a toolbox talk, and have 50 workers or less, then call SafeWork and request a free workplace advisory visit. An inspector will happily show you how to do it and even provide the templates.

Anthony: All it costs employers is some commitment and their time.

John: Plus small employers who request an advisory visit are eligible to apply for a $500 rebate for the purchase of equipment or solutions they buy to improve workplace health and safety.

Find out more about our small business rebate program and search for ‘templates’ on our website.

Managing musculoskeletal disorder

Hazardous manual tasks are the most common cause of injury in NSW workplaces, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of all workplace injuries.

Every year, we see over 19,000 major musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) claims costing on average over $30,000 per claim.

Last year, we launched a six-year work health and safety strategy that set a target of reducing serious MSDs by 30 per cent. Following consultation with a variety of industry sectors, we subsequently developed and launched an MSD strategy that focuses on those at greatest risk, such as storepersons, social workers, government employees and the like.

If we can meet this 30 per cent target, it will see almost 8000 fewer workers receiving a serious MSD, saving NSW businesses in excess of $250 million.

The strategy highlights the impact that MSDs have in the workplace and identifies approaches to reduce their incidence and severity.

Consultation and communication are the foundation for the effective management of MSDs.

The essential ingredients for successfully managing MSDs in the workplace include embedding a work health and safety landscape to address risks that lead to MSDs; eliminating MSD hazards at the planning, purchasing and design stage; increasing the use of high level controls; ensuring effective reporting and compliance with legal responsibilities; and supporting injured workers to recover at work.

As an ideal starting point, we recommend the PErforM program– Participative Ergonomics for Manual Tasks. It is a simple, internationally recommended program that helps to effectively manage hazardous manual tasks.

Get more information on the PErforM program and check out the free PErforM workshop schedule.

Help us shape the future of mental health in small business

According to the NSW Mental Health Commission, 17 per cent of people in NSW will experience mild to severe mental illness each year and a further 23 per cent are believed to have an undiagnosed mental health problem. With 1.51 million people working in small business in NSW, approximately 600,000 may be affected each year.

The opportunity to change the mental health and wellbeing of the NSW community by targeting small business is great.

Despite the availability of effective treatments for mental health conditions, evidence suggests that many people either do not seek treatment at all, or seek treatment following lengthy delays, during which the health, social and work consequences can accumulate.

Evidence also suggests that current workplace mental health programs tend to focus on larger organisations and industries and are not addressing the unique nature or the specific needs of small business.

Researchers at Everymind are developing a workplace mental health program for those who work in small business. They will work in partnership with the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research at the University of Newcastle, the icare Foundation, and other health, mental health and business partners in NSW and nationally.

If you own a small business or have worked in a small business (20 employees or less), tell us what you think about mental health!

A range of mental health resources are also available from our website or call 13 10 50.

GOOD CONSULTATION IMPROVING MORE THAN JUST THE BOTTOM LINE

The benefits of good workplace consultation are pretty clear for most NSW businesses – improved productivity, fewer injuries, and hopefully the all-important reduction in workers compensation premiums.

But for Groves Joinery owners Tracey and Gary Fuss, the reasons for putting good workplace consultation methods in place aren’t just about the bottom line – they’re much closer to home.

“Our employees have become an extension of our family, so it’s vital that we keep them safe,” said Tracey, who has owned the small joinery business with her husband Gary for 11 years.

“It’s our responsibility to make sure they are equipped with all of the information they need to make sure that their safety is protected on a daily basis. Continually talking and consulting with them about safety is the best way to do this.”

Groves Joinery mainly manufactures kitchens for the Hunter region. The business employs eight workers and two subcontractors. The main risks within their workplace revolve around working with machinery, manual handling, and completing repetitive tasks that can cause strain.

Tracey said their simple, but effective workplace consultation methods have created a culture in the business whereby safety is second nature.

“We don’t use the term consultation because I feel that is one of the terms that make people feel like it’s a long and possibly complex process. I probably use the words ‘a chat about safety’,” Tracey said.

“We like to do it in a non-formal setting for the most part. For us, consultation is an open discussion regarding a safety issue and working through the best way for the whole business to manage it.”

The staff at Groves Joinery participate in regular monthly meetings where they are encouraged to raise and talk through safety matters. Issues are identified and documented, and solutions are then implemented.

Tracey also relies heavily on the experience of her workers to help inform workplace procedures and policies.

“They’re at the coalface, so it’s important that we listen to what they have to say, and they’re really good at feeding back information about things we can do to improve, or changes that we can make to be safer.”

This extends further than just talking about safety, with Tracey and Gary also using consultation methods to plan for the future of their business.

For example, when deciding on new machinery or equipment, Gary talks with his workers at the business to help make decisions about what to buy.

When that new machinery is installed, the workers all stop work to go through the operating procedures for the machinery, and to talk about risks and how to prevent them while using it.

“It doesn’t have to be formal, and the bulk of what we do isn’t formal. But it’s these simple things that have made a big difference for us,” Tracey said.

Although Tracey had had some experience in work health and safety in her previous job as a registered nurse, she admits to feeling slightly overwhelmed when starting to review the consultation methods in her own business.

“I think the most important thing is to just make a start. Just start with one thing. I started with our general WHS policy and just built from there,” she said.

“It’s all about looking at those things – the bigger picture. So my advice to other businesses would be to write yourself a list and just start.”

Let SafeWork NSW help you implement effective workplace consultation methods in your workplace. Request a free safety advisory visit or call 13 10 50.

Protecting workers from the risk of falls

Effective 1 November, we are introducing new on-the-spot fines for employers not protecting their workers from the risk of falling from heights.

These new fines can be issued by inspectors if the risk to workers is imminent or serious, or if the workplace is considered to be a repeat offender.

These fines are aimed at reducing the number of worker fatalities and serious injuries, and protecting workers and the community from these high-risk activities.

This year alone, we have attended 234 incidents involving falls from heights. Over half these incidents occurred in the construction industry.

Eight workers have been killed in NSW this year, as a result of a fall from height.

Working at heights is a high-risk work activity and requires a safe work method statement. You must assess the risks involved for each activity that involves working at height, and implement the highest level of control that is reasonably practical in the circumstances.

You can:

  • use a suitable working platform and, wherever possible, undertake the work from the ground
  • use edge protection, such as scaffolding or guardrails ensure all scaffolds are checked by a competent person and handover certificate is provided before using
    securely cover open penetrations, or use physical barriers
  • have a safe means of access and egress to all relevant areas of the worksite only use fall restraints and fall arrest systems when other higher order controls are not reasonably practicable
  • establish and test emergency procedures for fall restraint/arrest systems
  • only use ladders for access and egress, or for short term work when controls such as working platforms and scaffolds are not practical
  • give your workers relevant equipment, information, training and instruction to work safely at heights.

Fines are $720 for an individual and $3600 for a corporation.

See how simple safety can be when you’re working at heights.

Getting back to work after injury

Developing programs to monitor and improve return to work practices is one of our key activities over the next six years to 2022, with a focus on the construction industry a key priority.

Finding suitable duties for an injured worker in the construction industry can often hit a brick wall.

While most workers recover faster at work than at home, this concept can be a stumbling block for many construction employers.

‘Construction is a very physically demanding industry and one where small employers will often feel that a recovering at work after an incident is impossible,’ SafeWork NSW inspector Lydia Grepl said.

‘But we have numerous examples that show a staged return to work is actually possible in many cases.’

One involved a 22-year-old qualified electrician who sustained life-threatening head injuries requiring lengthy recovery after falling three metres at a Sydney residential construction site.

It is believed that the electrician fell head-first through the stair void on the first level where there was no handrail, platform or barrier installed.

‘This worker was very lucky to survive,’ the inspector said.

‘He had to re-learn basic human skills such as how to talk, walk, write and eat.’

Remarkably, eight months later the worker had recovered enough to begin a staged return to work on suitable duties, supported by his employer, insurer and doctor.

Initially assembling switchboards for four hours a day, two days per week in a warehouse, this increased by an extra day within a month, then an additional two hours a day. Soon, he was working eight hours a day, three days a week, and visiting sites to fit power points and conduct maintenance work. This gave him great relief and improved both his physical and mental wellbeing as he was able to return to some sense of normal after his incident.

‘This was a good example of how a successful staged return to work can be achieved in the construction industry.’

Find out how to develop a return to work program.

Consultation is key at IOH

Getting an injured worker back to work can be tricky, with a whole range of people involved such as doctors, employers, treatment providers and the worker.

Often at the centre of that is the Rehabilitation Consultant, supporting everyone involved and making sure everyone is kept well informed.

It’s a high pressure job with the potential for stress, as emotions run high and priorities compete with one another.

So it’s absolutely vital that the health and safety of the Rehabilitation Consultant is taken care of.

IOH Area Manager Paula Cormack is responsible for doing just that. IOH is a rehabilitation services provider, and Paula is responsible for managing seven Rehabilitation Consultants who work from Liverpool to Goulburn.

“There can be a high stress element to the role of a Rehabilitation Consultant, because there’s a lot of different people involved with a lot of different agendas that they have to deal with, Paula said.

“Although the risks to the Rehabilitation Consultations aren’t overwhelmingly physical, there’s huge potential for stress.”

The best way to deal with this, she said, comes down to good workplace consultation.

“Using formal and informal forms of consultation allows the Rehabilitations Consultants to share their stories helps us to identify problems, and then tackle them,” Paula said.

Given the large geographical area that the Rehabilitation Consultants have to cover, Paula said she and her team have relied on technology to do this.

They use a program called Slack – an online tool that allows them to share messages in real time, hold video chats, and upload documents to share.

“My guys share information every day. Whether it be something interesting they’ve read that might help with their role, or information that others might need to know about a site that they’ve just been to. The beauty about it is that it’s in real time, and it’s versatile” Paula said.

“I guess what we’re trying to do is to create an environment where we don’t have to think about it too much, so it’s just seamless and it becomes second nature to talk about things that relate to their health and safety.”

They combine this with more formal workplace consultation methods, such as one-on-one meetings every fortnight, monthly team meetings; and a keeping a Register of Injuries, where any workplace injuries – no matter how minor – are formally recorded.

“All of these things provide a really great environment where everyone can feel relaxed and confident enough to raise issues and discuss safety concerns, because at the end of the day we want to tackle potential injuries before they happen,” Paula said.

“From there, the benefits to our business just flow. We have a happier workforce, lower injury rates and incidents, and a more productive business.”

If you would like more information on how to establish good workplace consultation methods, visit our website or call 13 10 50.

If you’re a small business operator, you can also request a free workplace advisory visit. By doing so, you could be eligible for a small business rebate of up to $500.