Health and Safety Representatives

Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses

How to implement an effective safety management system

3 minute read
Health and Safety Representatives

With an average of 200 workers being fatally injured at work in Australia every year and more than 130,000 claims accepted for work-related injury or illness in 2021, reinventing the wheel for a proactive approach for small and medium businesses is the key to success for Australian workers in the future.

According to Edith Cowan University School of Medical and Health Sciences Occupational Health and Safety Senior Lecturer Marcus Cattani, there is a growing gap in safety at small and medium-sized businesses, compared to larger and more established ones.

“Large companies are generally quite successful in preventing injuries,” he said.

“They have invested quite a lot in the resources, such as technology, and their people to develop a safety management system.

“However, small and medium-sized companies have not put that investment in and, therefore, they’re often not compliant with the legislation and – more importantly – their injury rates are still quite high.

“One of the issues I have found with small and medium-sized organisations is they don’t think about workplace injuries as being something they need to worry about, but the statistics show they have high injury rates.”

Incidents and injuries also devastate small businesses – for both company morale and operations – and, in many cases, it is likely to occur again.

“If an incident at a workplace has happened, we know the circumstances of it being repeated is quite high,” Dr Cattani said.

“If we haven’t had any incidents and we’re putting in place preventative actions and monitoring those actions, then we’re less likely to have injuries.”

Prevention is key

Dr Cattani said the key to industry change for safer working environments was for organisations to not see workplace incidents as inevitable, but preventable.

“Injuries do occur, particularly in small and medium-sized organisations, where there isn’t adequate control of risk,” he said.

“I don’t want people to feel guilty that they haven’t put in a safety system – I want them to be engaged, so they choose to prevent harm over responding to an injury.

“We don’t have to wait until someone has been hurt to do something about it.”

One example of a preventative action from an organisation is to not only document incidents but also record and measure how many workers return home safely and note how long these periods last.

“If your people are being kept safe, then document it and see whether there’s any improvements you can make,” he said.

“We’re not going to change the way they keep their people safe – if people are being kept safe, then make sure we formalise that in a simple risk register and look to make improvements on an ongoing basis.”

How to implement an occupational health and safety management system

Helping to deliver AIM WA’s Developing and Implementing Your Work Health and Safety Management System course, Dr Cattani said small businesses could be educated and equipped with knowledge on how to shape a safer work environment.

“The course is a useful way for organisations to discuss how they’re going to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities,” he said.

“We know the techniques of managing risk to an acceptable level really work.

“It aims to provide a mechanism for small and medium-sized companies to both comply with the legislation and prevent workplace injuries, including fatalities.

“Injuries cost $30,000-50,000, which is a lot of money for a small company, but putting in a safety management system can cost a few thousand, so it makes a lot of business and moral sense.”

To implement an effective occupational health and safety management system, Dr Cattani said it was important to tailor it to the business.

“We don’t want organisations to purchase a safety management system off the shelf and then expect it to be relevant to their organisation,” he said.

“The future will be some simple health and safety processes in all organisations, with everybody involved in preventing harm to themselves and to their team members.

“This will see us ending up with workplaces where injuries are quite an unusual process.”