Ah, workplace health and safety. Is it exciting? No. Is it important? Yes. Should every leader in your business care about it? Definitely.
Maintaining a safe and compliant workplace is not just the responsibility of the OH&S Officer or the HR Manager alone. It needs to be prioritised by every leader in the business, so they can lead by example and pass these values onto their team members. In this way, everyone can cooperate on building a truly safe workplace, one where safety is top of mind, safety processes are shared and applied, and safety feedback from every team member is encouraged and used to support continuous improvement.
So why is it so vital for the whole organisation to get on board? Today we’re exploring what can happen when a safety culture isn’t created and supported and safety compliance is not a priority – and the far reaching impacts that this can have upon your team and organisation.
When you work so hard to put important policies in place, you want everyone in the business to not just accept, but actually follow them. Otherwise, your efforts could be rendered futile. Maintaining a culture where safety is taken seriously and prioritised by everyone in the business helps ensure safety policies are actually adhered to.
This starts with all leaders in the business leading by example, helping their team to follow suit. Studies examining the relationship between safety culture and staff injuries found the biggest predictor of workplace incidents was the attitudes of managers towards safety.
We also know that organisations are more likely to see workplace incidents occur when process compliance across the business is poor. So making policy delivery and acceptance as straightforward and convenient as possible is key.
If you’re the one reading this, chances are you already know the importance of prioritising workplace health and safety, but if you need some pointers to help others in the business take it just as seriously as you do, read on.
Okay, so this may be obvious, but the safety risks go much further than just the individual affected.
Before we even consider the financial and legal ramifications of not prioritising WHS compliance in your organisation, the main concern here is looking after your people and ensuring they get home safe from work each day.
A serious workplace injury (or worse) obviously takes a huge toll on not just the individual affected and their family, but the ripple effect continues beyond this, spreading low morale and inciting safety concerns across their peers too.
Naturally, this can lead to absenteeism, losses in performance and efficiency, and ultimately, to attrition as people seek safer jobs elsewhere.
Beyond this, leaving gaps in your compliance can obviously have serious legal or regulatory ramifications.
But just how bad can it be?
Multiple states in Australia now have industrial manslaughter laws in place, holding businesses liable if it’s found their gross negligence led to death. In Queensland, for example, the offence carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for senior officers and $10 million for body corporates.
Earlier this month, industrial manslaughter charges were handed down to a company and its directors under section 34C of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). The auto recycling business was found to have negligently caused death after one of their forklifts reversed into a pedestrian.
By keeping health and safety compliance at the top of organisational priorities, the opportunity for events like these to occur can be diminished.
Further to the examples above, not only can lapses in compliance lead to an array of fines and penalties, but an array of indirect costs too.
According to Safe Work Australia, employees who claim for a serious injury are absent from work, for 12 weeks, on average, and around one quarter of serious claims in Australia require more than 12 weeks off work.
The productivity losses and increased sick leave costs in this time are huge, especially when you consider the flow on impact to other staff picking up extra work and reducing their usual capacity.
Poor WHS was also found to impact on a company’s ability to compete in their market, attract greater public scrutiny and decrease shareholder value. The latest figures from Safe Work Australia show work-related injuries cost employers $1.6 billion a year.
WHS interventions are commonly seen by managers as an expense required to avoid financial penalties, but to the contrary, these measures act as a proactive investment in building a productive and profitable workplace.
So how can you make workplace health and safety a priority and get everyone on the same page? In the next blog, we’ll be looking at how to build a culture of compliance in your organisation.