It is an unfortunate fact that the workplace is the cause of death for an alarming number of Australian workers.
Each year, work-related accidents claim the lives of Australian workers and account for hundreds of thousands of compensation claims, costing Australian businesses time and money.
According to the Victorian WorkCover Authority, 31
people were killed inVictoria in 2000 as a result of workplace accidents. This compares to 21 in South Australia , eight in Tasmania , 21 in Western Australia and 181 in New South
The safer a workplace is, the less likely it should be for an accident to occur. There may be an initial financial investment in the short term in order to adhere to workplace safety standards. However, the move could save you money in the long term as a result of fewer accidents and compensation claims.
The level of safety in your workplace will also have a direct bearing on your insurance. For instance, insurance premiums will vary depending on the level of workplace health and safety procedures a business adopts. In some cases, businesses which take a lax approach to health and safety may even be hard pressed to find an insurance provider willing to sell them coverage.
The number and severity of reported injuries reinforce the importance of vigilance when it comes to Australian workplace health and safety issues. For instance, WorkCover Queensland reported that it received more than 69,620 new statutory WorkCover claims in 1999/2000.
With these kinds of statistics in mind, employers can not afford to be complacent when it comes to workplace safety practices as part of their day-to-day business operations.
Each state's occupational health and safety authority, such as WorkCover and WorkSafe, aim to reduce the health and safety risks associated with workplace environments by implementing programs, running awareness campaigns and providing incentives.
Employers are also encouraged to know their responsibilities when it comes to moral and legal safety requirements within the workplace.
Prevention is better than a cure and employers need to take preventative steps to pinpoint and minimise workplace hazards. This is a legal necessity in some cases.
While business owners can protect their businesses by insuring against workplace liabilities, it is prudent and more cost-effective to adopt safe workplace practices from the outset.
Each workplace has safety needs specific to their own industry. While safety concerns may differ from workplace to workplace, each business needs to assess its own risk. As a result, they need to know what to look for and what precautions to put in place.
With the right planning and foresight the workplace does not have to be an accident waiting to happen. And if you have employees, it is important to make sure they are aware of the risks and have been informed of the necessary procedures that need to be followed in the event of a workplace accident.
Your level of workplace safety will also have an impact on your insurance policies and premiums. You, as the employer, have a duty of care, and in some instances, you are also legally bound to abide by certain safety standards.
The attention you pay to workplace safety today will go a long way to protecting your business' future. A workplace accident can have a major impact on the financial viability of a business if you have not planned for such an event through relevant insurance and workplace protection. Not only could your safety standards protect your livelihood, in extreme circumstances, they could just save the life of an employee, a customer, family or even yourself.
To begin with, you need to understand what a workplace hazard is. The answer to this question will depend on the nature of your business. Obviously, the tasks your business undertakes will dictate the type of hazards that may occur in your workplace.
Knowing what workplace hazards you, your staff and customers face will prove vital if you are to put preventative measures in place. The following is a list of methods you can use to identify hazards in your workplace.
Ask your employees: Depending on the nature of your business, your staff will be your greatest source of information. They are responsible for carrying out particular tasks on a daily basis and should be well aware of the risks involved with those duties.
Job safety checks: Being aware of the tasks involved in a particular duty or job will help to pinpoint any potential work hazards. You should assess the daily tasks carried out as part of your business and assess each step for possible hazards. By doing job safety checks you will be able to tell any staff or be aware yourself of what the risks are and how to carry out a particular task to reduce any risk of workplace injury.
Injury and illness history: You should examine the types of injuries and illnesses plus the regularity and severity of them occurring in the workplace. You can do this by asking any employees and monitoring first aid reports or any compensation claims.
Safety audits: Conducting safety audits at regular intervals will help you identify any potential risks. It is important if problems or workplace hazards are found that you act straight away by assessing the level of risk involved. Safety audits will be pointless if you identify the hazard but fail to act. You do not want to find yourself facing a compensation claim for an accident you knew was waiting to happen, but did nothing to prevent.
Once you have established your individual workplace safety hazards you will need to look at the bigger picture. There may be a potential risk lurking in your workplace that is yet to be identified.
Knowledge will be the key when it comes to preparing and understanding what can happen in certain workplace scenarios. This will help you prepare an action plan on how to deal with workplace health and safety issues and accident scenarios.
What are the major workplace hazards?
While many businesses have workplace health and safety issues specific to their own industry, there are safety concerns which are common to most businesses. For instance, slips, trips, falls, fires and electrical hazards are among the top workplace hazards and are general workplace safety issues which need to be addressed.
You also have a duty of care to provide a certain standard of safety in the workplace and to protect the health and safety of your workers.
As part of this duty of care, you should provide:
- A safe workplace and safe work practices.
- All equipment tools, machinery and substances in a
- Safe and hygienic facilities including toilets,
eating areas and first aid.
- Information, training and supervision for all
- Processes to inform and involve workers and their
representatives in decisions that may affect their health and safety at work.
- Processes for identifying hazards, assessing risks
and controlling those risks.
- Ways to record workplace injuries and illness.
Slips, trips and falls
Over a third of all major workplace injuries reported each year are caused as a result of a slip or trip. They are the single most common cause of injuries at work. Slips and trips are one of the most frequent causes of non-fatal major injuries in both manufacturing and service industries and account for more than half of all reported injuries to members of the public.
Actions brought as a result of an injury can be extremely damaging to a business, especially where the public is involved. Public liability insurance covers only a proportion of the costs.
Employers can help to reduce slip and trip hazards through good health and safety arrangements. All employers have to assess the risks to employees and others who may be affected. This helps to find out what needs to be done to satisfy the law.
- Look for slip and trip hazards around the workplace,
such as uneven floors, trailing cables, areas that are sometimes slippery due
to spillages. Include outdoor areas.
- Decide who might be harmed and how. Who comes into
the workplace? Are they at risk?
- Consider the risks. Are the precautions already taken
enough to deal with the risks?
- Record your findings if you have five or more
- Regularly review the assessment. If any significant changes take place, make sure that precautions are still adequate to deal with the risks.
Don’t forget to consider employees who work away from the workplace. Look at the hazards and risks that they may come across so that proper training and equipment can be provided.
Reducing the risks
- Spillage of wet and dry substances clean
spills up immediately. If a liquid is greasy, ensure a suitable cleaning agent
- Once it has been cleaned the floor may be wet for
some time. Use appropriate signs to warn people the floor is still wet and
arrange appropriate bypass routes.
- Trailing cables. Position equipment to avoid cables
crossing pedestrian routes. Use cable covers to securely fix to surfaces.
Restrict access to prevent contact.
- Remove rubbish from walkways and keep these kinds of
- Make sure any rugs/mats are securely fixed and do not
have curling edges.
- If the flooring has slopes, provide hand rails or use
floor markings to make people aware.
- When it comes to workplace footwear, make sure workers know what is suitable and what is not. The type of footwear will depend on the nature of your business, so make sure you have assessed the risks and staff are using the right kind of footwear. If your business requires special protective footwear, you, as the employer, are required by law to provide it free of charge.
Fire risks and safety
Fire can take a devastating toll on a business and poses a serious risk to the safety and welfare of staff and customers. It is one event which a workplace should have a fixed event action plan in place. This plan should include a fire drill and escape routes. In the event of a fire, preparation is the key to survival.
When it comes to fire in the workplace there can be a number of causes and depending on the nature of your business a fire can start because:
- Electrical office machinery may overheat and catch
- Grease on a cooking appliance may ignite
- Arsonists set fire to waste material next to the premises.
If a fire occurs at your premises, it is important you and anyone else in the premises, such as customers and employees, leave as quickly as possible. Remember that smoke rises, so the best plan of action is to crawl low where it will be easier to breathe and if possible, hold a damp cloth over your mouth to reduce smoke inhalation.
You should have designated fire point locations and exits from your premises. Fire point locations should be easily recognisable and preferably clearly visible from the area it is intended to cover. This can be done by colour coding the area or installing an illuminated exit sign.
In many cases, commercial properties are required to have manual fire alarm call points, fire instruction notices, fire evacuation plans and various types of fire fighting appliances, depending on the type of fire likely to occur.
Grouping fire equipment at "fire points" provides an easily identifiable focal point for access to fire fighting equipment facilities and also makes the routine servicing of the equipment that much easier.
Where special risks are involved, for instance electrical equipment, catering kitchens, flammable liquids, suitable appliances should be strategically positioned nearby.
Fire point locations
The following should be considered for the location of fire points:
- Fire points should be at prominent locations and
should not be more than 30m apart
- It is more advantageous to have several fire points
each with a few appliances rather than to concentrate all fire fighting
equipment at one location
- Fire points should be located as near as possible to
fire exit doors and, depending on the size of the premises and the distance to
a fire point, they should be situated along main fire escape routes. Care must
be taken not to obstruct the fire escape route in any way.
- In some cases, it may be appropriate to combine the
fire point with other equipment eg. emergency chemical spillage kit, first aid
equipment, emergency breathing apparatus, etc.
- It is essential that unobstructed access to the fire point is maintained at all time.
Offices, in particular, can be prone to electrical faults, accidents and fires as computers and other electrical machinery can overheat and catch on fire. Retail premises, although generally containing less electrical equipment, can be prone to fires starting from faulty wiring.
Electrical injuries can include shocks, electrocution and electrical burns. Most of these types of accidents involve situations where:
- The electricity supply has not been isolated or
properly switched off
- Working on live electrical equipment.
When working with electricity, it is important the necessary precautions are taken. Regular and accurate maintenance of electrical outlets and supply plays a major part in minimising the chance of electrical accidents, however, there are a number of other precautions to consider.
According to the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission, safe work systems regarding the use of electricity include:
- Portable power tools being grounded or double
- Double adaptors being prohibited
- Immediate removal of equipment with frayed or damaged
electrical leads from the workplace for repair
- A system of work permits to ensure that the location
of cables (overhead, underground, under floor and other side of walls) are
determined before digging, drilling etc.
- Tagging and isolation procedures are put in place
- Only cordless tools are used in damp or wet
- Metal ladders are not used for electrical work
- All electrical equipment is designed and manufactured
in accordance with Australian Standards AS3000 and AS3100
- All electricians are trained in first aid treatment for electric shock.
In the event of an electric shock:
- Get someone to call for an ambulance
- Turn off the source of the power to faulty equipment
- If not possible, try to remove the person from the
source of the power using a non-conductive material, perhaps dry-rope, piece
of dry wood or plastic tube
- On voltages 1000 V or more do not approach closer
- Once the person is removed from the source, check
their breathing and if they are not breathing start Expired Air Resuscitation
(EAR). Check for a pulse and if there is no pulse, commence cardio pulmonary
- For electrical burns, apply a cold compress and seek medical attention.