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Research highlights significant gaps in small business OHS

Tuesday, 24 October, 2017 - 11:00
Industry news
National News

Eighty-one per cent of Australian small businesses don’t fully understand their workplace safety obligations while only half are confident that they meet their obligations across all areas of workplace safety, according to recent research.

A further one in five small businesses feel confident to implement their workplace safety plan, while only 46 per cent have a clear understanding of how to manage and address bullying.

The research, conducted in August 2017 by Galaxy Research for workplace relations firm Employsure, also found that less than 60 per cent of small businesses know their responsibilities should an employee get injured.

“Small business owners want to do the right thing but we hear from them daily that they feel crippled by the complexity of what they are required to do,” said Employsure’s managing director Ed Mallet.

“They are swamped and struggling to keep their head above water.”

Small businesses want to improve their workplace safety, particularly around improved documentation, managing bullying, training staff and responding to an injury, according to Mallet, who said small businesses want to do more, but often don’t know how.

“Small business employers don’t know where to go to find help with over one third admitting they rely on Google for the answers,” he said.

The Employsure workplace safety index found that the top safety issues small businesses face include:

  1. Complexity of rules and regulations
  2. Constant changes to rules and regulations
  3. Time required for compliance
  4. Paperwork overload
  5. Staff being careless

“Often small businesses just need to start at step one to demonstrate compliance with legislation,” said Mallet.

“Having an effective safety management system means having a systematic approach to manage the health and safety of the business.”

There are four steps employers should adopt to plan, manage and implement workplace health and safety, said Mallet.

“This involves a problem-solving exercise to define issues or identify hazards, to gather information about them or assess the risks, to solve them or to control the risks, and to regularly review controls,” he said.

The first step is to identify any hazards, and employers can do this by looking around their workplace or worksite and observing work processes.

“It’s also essential that employers talk to workers and look at what has already happened such as any previous incident or hazard reports.”

The second step is to assess the level of risk associated with each hazard.

This includes considering the severity of any injury, illness or damage that might have occurred, and looking at the likelihood that someone will suffer from contact with that hazard.

“A risk assessment will help identify which workers are at risk of exposure to a hazard,” said Mallet.

“Working out what is causing the risk, identifying any current control measures, and then checking the effectiveness of these controls.”

Thirdly, any remaining or residual risks should also be controlled by following a hierarchy of controls.

“Start by trying to eliminate the hazard then developing safe work procedures and the wearing of personal protective equipment when required,” said Mallet.

“Safe work procedures are also useful tools for training and supervising your workers, and responding to incident reports and changes in the workplace.

“However, they must be developed in consultation with workers.”

Finally, he said control measures should be regularly reviewed to make sure they remain effective.

Common methods of review include workplace inspections, consultations, and testing and analysing records or data.

“An important element of this final step is training and supervision, because it’s the responsibility of the business or employer to provide information, training and instruction to workers to ensure their safety at work,” said Mallet.