How to address the risk of “humans as hazards”

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 27 July, 2022 - 09:30
Industry news
National News

When it comes to assessing the role of people in OHS risks, only a handful of organisations genuinely assess the risk associated with “humans as the hazards” while a larger majority rely on HR zero-tolerance policies, according to Damian Hegarty, Partner, HBA Legal.

“A sentiment that is commonly expressed by organisations is ‘we can (and do) take disciplinary action against staff who fail to abide by behaviour standards to ingrain our expectations within the culture of the organisation, but how can we be expected to control human behaviours of third parties engaging with our people?’” he said.

A common issue for organisations in this process is automatically reverting to administrative controls rather than properly considering the hierarchy of controls, said Hegarty, who was speaking ahead of the AIHS Visions Conference, which will be held from 7-9 September at Mantra Sharks in Southport QLD.

While there is an acceptance that controlling the risk of people is not as simple as applying a guard or interlock around a moving piece of machinery, Hegarty said it is important for organisations to be in a position to articulate how the controls which have been implemented provide the highest (reasonably practicable) level of protection against harm to a person’s health, safety and welfare.

“Human behaviour has and will always present a risk to the health and safety of workers and others,” he said.

“Over many years, we have seen regulators (nationally) take enforcement action and prosecute organisations where there has been physical and/or psychological injury arising from bullying or some other form of harassment.
“More recently, during the pandemic, we have also seen some horrible scenes of workers being spat on, verbally and physically abused.”

As a result, Hegarty said there has been a noticeable rise in activity from regulators looking at issues such as occupational violence and psychosocial injuries being sustained by workers.

In some jurisdictions, Hegarty said this has been reinforced by dedicated psychosocial units being established and the proposal of updated regulations or codes of practice.

“Like any hazard that has been identified, it is important that risk and recommended controls be continually monitored and reviewed,” he said.

Hegarty will be speaking at the AIHS Visions Conference, which will be held from 7-9 September at Mantra Sharks in Southport QLD. The conference is organised by the QLD branch of the AIHS, and the event will share contemporary strategies, new initiatives and alternative approaches to address the challenges of managing OHS. For more information, call (03) 8336 1995, email or visit the event website.