The most common WHS complaints and how to prevent them

Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) involves the assessment and management of a wide range of risks that impact the health, safety or welfare of those within the workplace. This includes the health and safety of customers, employees, visitors, contractors, volunteers and suppliers.

Prior to 2012, Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) laws were known as Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) laws. These laws used to differ across states and territory governments, and so the WHS were created to become a more universal set of rules.

Here are some of the more common causes of accidents in Australian workplaces, and what can be done by both employers and employees to prevent them from occurring.

Slips, trips and falls

Employees falling due to slippery floor surfaces or objects left in harm’s way account for thousands of WHS claims every year. These injuries can range from slipping over on improperly cleaned wet floor, tripping over electrical leads, or falling from a small stepladder.

Ways to prevent employees from falling at work can be as simple as implementing effective cleaning management systems, removing all obstacles from busy walkways, ensuing that there is adequate lighting and that all employees are wearing the correct footwear. Once these resolutions have been put into place, the number of WHS complaints against slips, trips and falls will dramatically decrease.

Fatigue

Fatigue can have a devastating impact on personal, workplace and public safety. Notoriously, severe fatigue can affect a person’s judgement, almost to the point where a critically fatigued individual has the same decision-making skills as an intoxicated person. Fatigue is more than just feeling a bit tired – it is an acute, ongoing mental state of physical exhaustion that restricts a person’s competence, making it harder for them to perform daily tasks to their usual standard.

A wide range of issues can contribute to fatigue, such as:

  • prolonged or intense mental or physical activity
  • sleep loss or poor sleep
  • long shifts
  • short recovery time between shifts
  • long commuting times
  • family demands.

There are a number of issues associated with fatigue, including poor concentration, impaired judgement, poor hand-eye coordination and visual perception. Long-term fatigue can have an even more debilitating effect on an employee’s health, and can be a contributing factor to serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

WHS laws oblige employers to eliminate risks arising from fatigue, and in consultation with the employee in question, steps should be taken to assist with and eliminate the cause for fatigue.

Posture/ergonomics

Prolonged work at a desk or computer can create or aggravate work-related injuries, particularly of the neck, back and upper limbs. These issues are exacerbated if workstations are poorly set up.

To minimise these risks it is important to have an ergonomic workstation design that helps employees maintain a proper posture. Pay careful attention to the positioning of employees’ heads, necks/spines, arms/wrists, hips and feet.

Ensuring an ergonomic workplace environment means reduces the risk that employees suffering and, therefore, the number of WHS complaints.

Bullying

Workplace bullying is repeated and unreasonable behaviour directed towards a worker, or group of workers, that creates a risk to psychological health and safety. Bullying can take many different forms including psychological, physical or indirect and can cause fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Bullying in the workplace can be a result of poor workplace culture supported by an environment which allows such behaviour to occur. Poor people-management skills and lack of supportive leadership can also add to employees’ stress.

To comply with the WHS legal requirements, a risk-management system to deal with workplace bullying should be in place that informs and trains all workers in the following matters:

  • identifying and eliminating the risks of workers being bullied
  • familiarity with the workplaces bullying policy
  • expected standard of behaviour within the workplace
  • nominated individual who deals with reported bullying in the workplace.

Everyone in the workplace should actively work to prevent workplace bullying before it becomes a risk to health and safety.

Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers

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