Are you confused about Workplace Health and Safety?

Are you confused about Workplace Health & Safety?When speaking with clients from a diverse range of industries regarding Work Health and Safety (WHS), there is one word that appears to be repeated more than any other, and that word is ‘confused’.

Whether we’re talking about workers, volunteers, penalties, reasonably practicable or health and safety duties, the general consensus is that people understand the importance of Work Health and Safety, but are genuinely confused about it all. So let’s have a look at some of the hot topics that has many of us scratching our heads.

Prior to the 31st December 2011, if you were a workplace with 30 or more employees (by definition) you were required to have a Workplace Health and Safety Officer or ‘WHSO’. This was mandatory. In saying that, many workplaces that had 30 or less employees (by definition) benefited by embracing a WHSO for their workplace, as a proactive way of mitigating risks to their business operation.

So where are we now?

As of 31st December 2011, all WHSOs ceased to exist, so what’s next? Well, it has been put forward by the Government that workplaces should embrace Health and Safety Advisors to more or less carry on with the role that the WHSO was previously fulfilling. This recommendation is for ALL workplaces, regardless of your size and whether you currently have a WHSO or not.

What will this Health and Safety Advisor do for your business operations?

Health and Safety Advisors provide valuable assistance to businesses in meeting their duties under current Workplace Health and Safety Laws and can continue to do so under the new Laws. Many businesses are taking on board Health and Safety Advisors to assist them in complying with their obligations under the new Work Health and Safety Laws.

They see this as a replacement for the WHSO, and also see the value in it when taking into consideration the legal jungle relating to health and safety and the very steep penalties associated.

In particular, the model Work Health and Safety Laws impose a specific duty on Officers of corporations and unincorporated bodies such as Clubs and Associations to exercise Due Diligence to ensure that the Corporation, Club or Association meets its Work Health and Safety obligations.

As WHSOs were employed to provide information on hazards and risks associated with the workplace or work activities, so are trained Health and Safety Advisors. There are advantages for a Corporation, Club or Association in implementing a trained Health and Safety Advisor to assist an Officer to satisfy their due diligence obligations.

This Officer is not a WHSO but any person/s who makes a decision in the organisation which may affect part or a substantial part of the organisation in terms of work health and safety.  This Officer could be a person such as a Board Member, General Manager, Receptionist, or any other person within the organisation.

For example, a receptionist uses an extension lead that is across an area of their workspace, while the Health and Safety Advisor may provide advice on this, it is the receptionist that is the Officer ie. decision maker that is ultimately responsible as to the safe placement of the lead.

It is important to note, the duty to exercise due diligence will always remain with the Officer making the work health and safety decision and cannot be outsourced or delegated to a safety advisor such as a Health and Safety Advisor. The Advisor’s role is to assist the Officer in their duties and responsibilities as part of best practice work health and safety.

What steps can you take?

Employing a trained Health and Safety Advisor is one available option to help Officers meet their duties. The Government has allowed current WHSO personnel to upgrade their qualifications to the Nationally Recognised Certificate IV in OHS in a 2 day bridging course for $500 (only available until December 2012). Other options include completing the qualification online or as a traineeship where Government Funding may be available to you.

Hopefully I have clarified some of the grey areas; however as with all OH&S issues, there is rarely a definitive line between right and wrong which highlights the need for a best practice approach. Please feel free to contact me for more information on Health and Safety Advisor training.

Written by Daniel Hickey, Risk Consultant and Trainer, Club Training Australia,