News & Insights

Workplace health and safety – likely changes businesses should be aware of

Published 03 August 2022

As the Federal Government’s Workplace Health & Safety Strategy 2012 nears its 10 year renewal we can expect a shift in focus with the new strategy encompassing contemporary concerns including issues relating to or arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gallagher Workplace Risk team predicts businesses will need agility to comply with the new expectations around working conditions and a greater emphasis on employees’ personal lives.

Indications suggest human resources and workplace safety managers need to be prepared to handle contemporary concerns such as 

  • workplace safety maturity  to an advanced standard
  • new and hybrid ways of working
  • psychological safety and mental wellbeing which is increasingly being incorporated into state based safety regulations
  • a psycho-social whole-person approach.

 


 

Awareness of workplace risks outside of the office environment

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new ways of working – and the additional risk exposures that working from home (WFH) or hybrid working arrangements are likely to require enhanced safety obligations, such as ergonomic work set-ups, hygiene and safety, and consideration of mental health impacts. 

Businesses need to develop tools for assessing risks in WFH environments and ensuring compliance with recently increased minimum entitlements for leave and support. Beginning by looking at safety in a regular workplace environment may help ascertain what is practicable to control. 

Managing issues starts through having a documented approach, with processes put in place. These  might include 

  • formal risk assessment including development of policies and procedures 
  • management strategies for new areas of exposure arising from new ways of working
  • review of reporting on environments and routines
  • ongoing education on expectations and tasks
  • introduction of consultation and communications processes around work and decision making
  • adherence to state based COVID-19 requirements 
  • formation of an ongoing advisory committees and specifically trained contact officers for areas of emerging risk. 
     

Ability to maintain work safety amid the rapid pace of change

Moving forward, there is expected to be a new workplace health and safety requirement in the area of change management and adaptability skills. Employers’ ability to ensure skillset competencies for adaptable working environments and related capabilities of people and teams calls for change management to be planned, consulted, communicated and educated on.

Case study: supermarket chain case tried by SafeWork SA
A major supermarket chain introduced an item of new equipment nationally – an H frame roll cage for stocking shelves. While night staff were working in the supermarket a roll cage hit a member of the public, causing medical injuries. 

Despite holding a comprehensive certified AS/NZ 4801 safety management system the supermarket chain failed to consult effectively with all staff regarding safety requirements relating to the new changes brought by the new type of equipment.

The supermarket chain was found liable and sentenced to an enforceable undertaking to roll out training and a consultation mechanism nationwide.


Safety authorities are demanding an escalated approach to managing workplace safety including 

  • leaders and people managers with the ability to manage change 
  • consultation with stakeholders and teams
  • scalable education strategies at all levels
  • consistency of expectations and communications across the organisation.
     

Physically and psychologically safe workplace environments

With the possibility of discrimination, harassment, bullying or assault occurring in the work environment pre-emptive planning and preventative measures should be part of formulating a comprehensive workplace safety strategy. 

Some of the expectations of employers for ensuring that workplaces are safe environments might include

  • broadening understanding and strategy regarding all risks, with a focus on the psychosocial 
  • diverse cultural representation and inclusivity
  • gender equality and strategy
  • respect, civility and teamwork
  • zero tolerance of bullying, harassment, discrimination, bias or micro aggressions.
     

How businesses can prepare for predicted new obligations in workplace health and safety?

Businesses can position themselves to adapt to the new Workplace Health & Safety Strategy by prioritising employee wellbeing and workplace safety obligations at board level and working with their human resources and safety divisions to integrate new factors. 

These include states transitioning to nationally harmonised WHS legislation, a shift to use of penalty units and increases in fines, decreasing ability to obtain insurance cover for fines, with cover for defence costs only, and a greater focus of the roles of safety officers. In addition, 2022 and beyond will see the roll out of state-based psychosocial risk regulations and likely changes to entitlements in the national employment standards, which increase support entitlements for employees.

Taking notice of test cases around topics such as chain of responsibility systems and due diligence resulting in increased prosecutions, involuntary manslaughter legislation and regulations requiring increased psychological risk reporting can also provide indications of adjustments that may need to be made to policy and practical measures.
 

Interested in reviewing your organisation’s health and safety standards?

The Gallagher Workplace Health & Safety offering encompasses everything from incident management and investigation, safety mentoring and training through to health and wellness programs, hazard and risk profiling or highly configurable online safety management systems.

Find out more by talking to one of the experts on the Gallagher Workplace Risk team.
 

Further reading

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Gallagher provides insurance, risk management and benefits consulting services for clients in response to both known and unknown risk exposures. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance and/or risk management perspective.
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