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Start the new year confident by having a better understanding of your WHS duties as an Australian small business owner. Work health and safety is something that often gets swept aside as small business owners juggle long working days and a tight cashflow. But once you know your primary WHS duties you can put together an achievable action plan to ensure that everything gets done. And everyone is safe.
In this quick blog I’m introducing the basic WHS duties in Australia. Use it as a guide or starting point to greater WHS awareness and improved safety leadership, but don’t forget to carry out a risk assessment on the actual hazards identified at your business.
Your first WHS responsibility is to ensure the health and safety of any person connected (or in contact) with your business.
It doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 1,000 employees you must keep people safe while they are working. This involves:
Your responsibilities includes the safety of anyone who visits your premises to carry out their work. This could be:
Depending on the reason they are on the worksite, and how long they are going to be there — you may need to deliver a safety briefing (or full induction) before they enter your premises. And they may require additional training if they will need to wear (or use) PPE and safety equipment.
Your business premises should be safe for customers and your business operations should not harm the general public. Examples include:
Finally, don’t forget about yourself. Even if you are self-employed and don’t have any staff, you still have work health and safety duties. You must ensure your own health and safety while working so make sure you wear your PPE and keep your licences renewed.
Your second area of responsibility relates to the workplace itself: physical work areas, the way work is done, and the facilities you provide for your workers.
First, make sure the working environment is safe. This encompasses a lot of stuff but here are a few examples to get you thinking about your own workplace:
Next, look at your operations manual? Do you have one? You should have clear, consistent work procedures and operational policy. Here’s an example to explain what I mean:
Chances are your workplace carries a few different types of hazardous chemicals. Do you have aerosol cans, paint tins, petrol, LPG cylinders, varnish, cleaning chemicals? If you do, you must have proper use, handling and storage systems that your workers know and understand.
You must keep work tools, plant and equipment in safe working order. I was once electrocuted at work while cleaning out a bar fridge that had a faulty cooling element. I was in my mid-20s and clueless about work health and safety, and it’s only luck that I’m still here to talk about it. The fridge hadn’t been properly maintained, and I still remember the club’s electrician telling me to buy a lottery ticket because I should be dead. Maybe this is why I’m so passionate about WHS now.
Make sure you have first aid, safety and fire protection equipment based on the hazards your people are likely to encounter. Example: if you’re a small bakery you’ll probably need a first aid station with a burns module — but unlikely to need a plumbed safety shower and eyewash unit.
NOTE: Carrying out a risk assessment is always the best way to determine what safety equipment you need.
People need to know how to do their jobs safely. This includes understanding what hazards they’ll encounter each day at work, as well as knowing how to safety carry out individual work tasks.
When developing safe work procedures, purchasing safety equipment, and making changes to the work environment, you are legally required to consult with the workers who will be affected. Imagine you are wanting to:
Consulting with the people actually involved in the work tasks can help you identify possible hazards or make you aware that Joe in maintenance is allergic to the primary ingredient in the proposed cleaning chemicals.
It goes without saying that if someone is killed at work you must immediately report that to the WHS regulator in your state (or territory), but did you know that you are legally required to report any dangerous incident — even if no one was hurt?
Notifiable incidents under the WHS Act in Australia include:
You must notify the WHS Regulator (eg, SafeWork NSW, WorkSafe Victoria) by phone or in writing as soon as you are aware of the incident — and depending on the severity — may be required to preserve the scene until an inspector arrives.
There is usually an official form or online reporting process on each state government’s website. If you are unsure where to look, try googling: ‘incident notification NSW’ or ‘report an incident Victoria’ or ‘workplace incident South Australia’.
This blog has quickly introduced 5 essential WHS responsibilities of Australian small business owners. Are you complying with all of them?
Make sure you include a commitment to work health and safety in your 2020 small business plan, and if you need some help getting started — or with the WHS documentation process — please get in touch. I’m a professional WHS writer and trainer passionate about helping small business owners develop a strong safety culture.
[…] small business owner in Australia is legally required to provide a safe place to work for their employees. From the day you open your business, you must have safe work practices in […]