Gary Byrne, industry support expert for Rapid Solutions, shares the latest workplace health and safety statistics and advises how to play it safe both on and off site.

At its core, work health and safety (WHS) is concerned with installing systems and processes that ensure you and your team are constantly on the lookout for risky situations. It emphasises the need to consider the wide range of potential consequences of any action. A weighty responsibility.

Business owners wear many hats in any given week – CEO, financial controller, customer service officer, equipment operator, reporting specialist, marketer and more. It can be tempting to move the business aspects you are less comfortable with to the back burner. But when it comes to work health and safety it is important to resist that temptation. Otherwise, Australia’s next WHS insurance claim could easily involve your business.

Recent WHS facts

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that during the 2018 financial year (July 2017 to June 2018) 563,600 Australians experienced a work-related injury or illness – that’s more than 4% of the workforce.

Of that total, 87% were employees and three quarters of them had paid leave entitlements. This represents not just significant downtime spent in recovery, but a serious burden on business owners.

Tellingly, ‘technician/trades worker’ was the occupation most likely to experience a work-related injury or illness (Figure 1). The most common injury was sprain/strain (28%), followed by chronic joint or muscle condition (18%) and cut/open wound (16%). Lifting, pushing, pulling or bending is the most common cause, at 24%. Next is hitting or being hit/cut by an object or vehicle (18%) and via a fall (15%).

Figure 1: Work-related injury or illness by occupation (source: ABS report 6324.0)

Rapid Solutions has seen all kinds of claims relating to WHS. Experience leads the national insurer to stress to business owners the importance of understanding what potential hazards to look out for, teaching your team to be equally as aware of them, and ensuring your business is protected with public liability insurance (PL).

PL is designed to help cover the costs of liability claims made against your business by a third party, for personal injury (including to visitors and employees) and property damage.

How to play it safe – off-site

WHS discussions amongst team members should be a part of daily work life.

For example, many businesses conduct ‘toolbox talks’ every morning to uncover potential risks in the day’s jobs and discuss ways to manage them. This not only assists the employee assigned to the job, but the shared knowledge sees everyone improve their skills of recognising and mitigating potential hazards.

Team meetings are also a great forum to openly discuss incidents that have been lodged or hazards that have been avoided over the past 24 hours. Team members can share ideas on how these could have been better managed.

Business owners can also lead the discussion on WHS more formally, for example by focusing on one particular aspect of WHS for the week/fortnight/month, using real-life examples to help make hazardous situations real and relatable. You could also ask your team for suggestions on how to improve overall operational safety – even anonymously via a suggestion box so they are more forthcoming.

If you have a regular internal communication platform such as a staff newsletter, it is a good idea to make WHS an ongoing topic.

Another tactic is to monitor your team’s sick days and create regular reports to track work-related illnesses and injuries. Could a reduction in accident-related sick days be a team goal, with a reward for an agreed reduction by a set date? Driving your team towards this shared target could be key to reducing the impact WHS issues have on the business.

Importantly, place emphasis on maintaining personal protective equipment such as face masks, boots and safety harnesses. Your equipment needs to be faultless to ensure you don’t become a statistic.

How to play it safe – on-site

At the core of WHS-relevant on-site activity is the question “What do I need to watch out for as I complete this job?”

When entering someone’s home, firstly scope the area with a keen eye and a comprehensive checklist to identify and assess present and potential hazards. For example, does the customer have pets? Does the area being inspected (such as a roof void) look safe to enter? Implement the most effective control measures possible for these hazards then continue managing and reassessing as you complete the job.

The main potential hazards are around access to inspection areas – subfloors, roof voids, and other confined spaces, which includes ladder safety. Roof voids can conceal a number of serious hazards such as exposed or loose electrical wiring or components and loose insulation (potentially asbestos). Confined spaces also make great hiding places for dangerous animals, including snakes.

Chemical spills and/or contamination also present a daily hazard. At Rapid Solutions, personal injury is a common source of claims, particularly through overspray. For example, an employee might slip and fall due to a water spill not being cleaned up properly or a homeowner may slip after a chemical spray treatment.

Another point to note is that you are only insured for the job at hand, so Rapid Solutions recommends resisting doing good deeds outside your professional capacity. It might be tempting to assist a homeowner with a simple task but if you are not qualified, your helping hand could have seriously debilitating consequences, financially, physically and more.

Consider this situation: a pest control technician attempts to access a ceiling void and finds the manhole framing loose and dangerous to access. He says to the homeowner “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it,” does so, then completes the inspection. All appears fine and the client is very pleased with the work. However, sometime later the homeowner decides to access the roof void, only to have the repairs give way. The owner is seriously injured and claims damages.

How this situation could have been avoided: the pest technician should have advised the owner to have the manhole professionally repaired before arranging to return and safely inspect the roof void.

Protect your investment

Given so many WHS issues are unexpected and out of a business owner’s control, it is wise to cover yourself with public liability insurance. Rapid Solutions combines both general and public liability insurance into the one policy type and business owners can choose between coverage limits.

When considering limits, assess several factors including the nature of your business, its size including turnover and size of clients you provide advice/service too.

Arming yourself with knowledge as well as insurance is vital to a healthy WHS environment. Read over and use the resources of your state/territory’s WHS regulator, which enforces such laws and investigates workplace incidents. They are a goldmine of information and advice for business owners who can use the material to better educate themselves about safety risks and mitigation strategies.

Protect yourself by making effective WHS processes a key element of your daily operations and a well-nourished area of your team’s mindset.

Gary Byrne, Industry Support Expert, Rapid Solutions

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