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Moving Forward - What will Managing Health, Safety & Wellbeing in our Workplaces Look Like?

Areas you could be focusing on..

There is no doubt that we have all seen a lot of change in our workplaces in 2020, so how will this change impact how we manage health, safety and wellbeing (HSW) going forward? What can we be focusing on and to what extent can we keep things “business as usual”?

How can we use the learnings from the past few months to enable change for the better in managing HSW in our workplaces?

It is clear the magnitude of COVID-19 has created a gap where other health and safety risks that would have previously been a routine focus have been pushed down on the priority scale, or where in attempting to respond to COVID-19 we have inadvertently created other workplace risks. A great example is the increase in demand on delivery/truck drivers and how around-the-clock deliveries to support COVID-19 have had an impact on the management of their fatigue.

So how do we avoid dropping the ball on other risks?

The actual or perceived drop in priority for risks not linked to COVID-19 may threaten the effectiveness of your broader risk controls, either because organisations have resource constraints due to the need to apply controls to limit the impact of COVID-19, or due to a lack of focus at senior levels of an organisation on anything other than the pandemic.

What can you be doing to ensure you don’t fall into the trap above?

  1. Review all of the workplace health, safety and wellbeing activities highlighting what has dropped off or been re-prioritised. Take a risk management approach to assess the impact of these changes and take action to re-prioritise items as needed.
  2. Consider your risk holistically when contemplating the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, establish a plan for returning to normal operations – be sure to consider all of the workplace changes that have taken place.
  3. Remind your leaders of the health and safety practices that cannot be put on hold, engage them in the review and planning process and work with them to make it less time demanding on their part.

Safe Work Australia provides a great summary to assist with prioritising the management of workplace health and safety in their Statement of Regulatory Intent – Regulatory approach to Australian Work Health and Safety legislation – COVID-19

WHS Regulators understand the orders in place across Australia in relation to public gatherings will impact Australian workplaces. While these orders are in place, WHS Regulators will take into account the unprecedented pressure on industry and apply a common sense and practical approach to interactions with workplaces. Compliance and enforcement activity will continue, however the focus will be on matters that pose serious risks to health and safety as well as advisory support. WHS Regulator’s actions will be proportionate with a focus on what is reasonably practicable in these exceptional circumstances. 

In particular, WHS regulators will take into account an employer’s ability to meet its WHS duties given the constraints associated with the pandemic. This may include duties related to:

  • training, such as participation in face-to-face training and practical hands on training demonstrations
  • working from home arrangements, and
  • provision of hygiene products.

Generally, WHS Regulators will take a supportive and educative approach to compliance during this time provided duty holders have made genuine attempts to comply with requirements, but compliance is affected due to factors outside their direct control. Read the full statement here.

SafeWork Australia also provides a range of industry-specific resources including a helpful Workplace Checklist to give you some ideas about returning to work in a COVID-19 environment.

If you require additional support to manage health and safety in your workplace or to help sustain business as usual, please contact us.

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