“Upping the Ante” with workplace health & safety
With workplace injury still so prevalent and always a possibility, is there something more we should and can be doing to safeguard the health and wellbeing/hauora of staff?
Mahi/work in the social, community, health and justice sectors is “risky”. Hazards for workers may be physical, environmental, social, psychological and client-related. There are consequent risks to physical, mental and spiritual health and wellbeing for staff and volunteers.
Questioning and reviewing our health and safety practices is a good starting point. In fact, readiness to question is integral to a good health and safety response.
Hazards and risks are dynamic and change. Checking and reviewing them is a must as is reviewing and checking the efficacy of safety controls.
What about policies and procedures?
Policies and procedures are the bricks and mortar of a positive health and safety culture in the workplace.
Policies should address issues such as:
- health and safety responsibilities (eg who has health and safety officer responsibilities?)
- responses to safety incidents and adverse events
- identification of hazards and management of risks and controls
- prioritising safety responses
- recording of risks and controls (hazard and risk register)
- worksite checks
- bullying and harassment
- training and supervision requirements
- emergency and disaster preparedness
A dynamic response
But policies and procedures are not the whole answer. Risks are not static. They are dynamic and likely to change. This should be allowed for in policies, the way policies are implemented and in the safety measures established to minimise risks.
There must be mechanisms to:
- gather and use data to help identify hazards (eg complaints data, rates of staff absenteeism, weather reports for outdoor activities) and assess and review levels and likelihood of risk
- monitor and keep track of higher risk situations (eg as high complex needs; multi-disciplinary team;
- keep people informed about the risks and respect their right to give/refuse informed consent
- escalate or increase safeguards as needed in order to reduce the level and/or likelihood of risk of harm (eg use of protective gear; re-schedule appointments; cancellation or postponement being monitored.
A Policy Place subscriber runs group activities for young people. Some of the activities are outside and adventuresome. Before and throughout the adventure activities, the organisation’s policies now provide for:
- data about outside conditions (eg weather) to be closely monitored
- preparedness to respond to escalated risk
- decision-making when risks can’t be adequately managed.
The staff of a Policy Place subscriber travel a lot to see clients. Sometimes, they are travelling to remote locations. Sometimes they are transporting clients who have histories that indicate risk. We drafted their health and safety policies to comply with the remote work provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act (General Risk and Workplace Management) Regulations 2016. We also drafted a Transporting clients policy and procedure to provide for risks to be assessed and escalation of safety measures when risk heightens.
The health and safety of everyone in the workplace should always be a priority. Policies and procedures are a good start but we can never be complacent about risk. Question, monitor, check and review risks and adjust and update safety measures regularly. Be safe, stay well!