What Is Meant by Safety and Health in the Workplace? 

Jul 8, 2020 Posted by Marina Mirkina

This week we’ve published a Guest Post by Alert Force — The Health and Safety Training People. Alert Force is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) who provides accredited WHS training in confined spaces, fatigue management, asbestos removal, manual handling, traffic control and general occupational safety. 

Fatalities at Australian workplaces are slowly reducing and have fallen by more than 62% since 2007 — when 310 people lost their lives at work. Over the last 5-10 years the Australian Government has been enacting a great deal of legislative reform, placing more responsibility on the shoulders of employers to keep their employees safe at all times. Based on the significant reduction in workplace fatalities, it seems to be working. 

But safety and health in the workplace isn’t only an employer’s responsibility. Yes, employers must provide a safe work environment, but employees and contractors are also required to follow site rules and safe work procedures. At the same time other businesses (eg, manufacturers of machinery, chemicals and equipment) have a legal responsibility to supply workplaces with safe equipment, safe goods and safe services. 


Health and Safety: A Historical Insight 

Until recently, work health and safety legislation was different in every Australian state and territory. But in early 2012 the Australian government began to harmonise WHS legislation in an effort to provide consistent work health and safety laws across the entire country.  

Now in 2019 most Australian states and territories follow the Model WHS Act, Model WHS Regulations, and Model Codes of Practice developed by Safe Work Australia. This makes it easier for businesses and workplaces who operate in multiple locations to keep their workers (and their customers) healthy and safe. 


Who’s Responsible for WHS? 

Workplace health and safety legislation has been put in place so that both employers and employees know exactly what is expected of them. Here is a quick overview: 

Employer responsibilities 

According to the Model WHS Act, all employers have a responsibility to make sure their employees are safe and healthy in the workplace. They are required to: 

  • Make sure the workplace is physically safe for employees.
  • Make sure the employees have a pleasant working environment and essential facilities.
  • Make sure all equipment and machinery is safe and maintained properly.
  • Assess all hazards and do what is necessary to reduce the risk.
  • Make sure the handling and storage of hazardous substances is safe for workers.
  • Make sure worker’s compensation and other types of insurance are in place.

Employers must also consistently monitor the conditions at their workplace and provide proper information and training, so employees understand what it takes to be safe. Employees who are directly affected by various hazards (eg, workers who decant and handle hazardous chemicals) must be consulted when designing work areas, developing safe work procedures, and purchasing safety equipment. 

Employee responsibilities 

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the employees hold no responsibility toward keeping themselves (and others safe) in the workplace. In fact, employees are responsible for: 

  • Making sure they do not put themselves (or others) in potentially dangerous situations. 
  • Using all personal protective equipment (PPE) that has been provided for them. 
  • Obeying all instructions given to them regarding their safety. 
  • Not interfering with any equipment that is intended to protect them (and others) from harm. 

By working together, employers and employees can keep a workplace safe, but it takes both sides to make sure the task is accomplished.  



Prevention Is Always Better Than Dealing with Consequences 

When employers, management, employees and contractors are all committed to workplace safety the number of dangerous incidents on the job site starts to drop, and the severity of these incidents also decreases.  

It’s a bit like carrying out preventative maintenance on your car. Only instead of inspecting the engine, replacing the oil and gaskets — you’re inspecting work areas, identifying hazards, and assessing the risk to the safety of your workers (as well as the integrity of property, plant and the natural environment). 

Risk assessments are a fundamental part of work health and safety because they help employers identify equipment, chemicals and work practices that are problematic. Once identified, hazard control measures can be implemented to minimise the risk and even eliminate the hazards completely — sometimes before they even reach the workplace.  



How Can Health and Safety Training Help? 

Even if you only have one employee, you still have a WHS responsibility to provide them with a workplace that is free of risks and hazards. And you have an obligation under the WHS Act and Regulations to ensure they know how to carry out their job safely — and understand the different types of hazards they may encounter every day on the job site. 

To fulfil your legal obligations, you may be required to provide: 

  • WHS awareness and induction training — understanding general hazards, site safety rules, employee and contractor responsibilities. 
  • Job specific training — how to perform specific job tasks eg, lifting and carrying, mixing chemicals, fitting and wearing PPE, working in confined spaces. 
  • Mandatory licences and certifications  — any licence or certification required by law (eg, White Card, Forklift Licence). 
  • Accredited training — nationally recognised training for WHS officials who need to know how to identify hazards and carry out risk assessments eg, Work Health and Safety Officers (WHSOs), WHS Representatives and WHS committee members. 

Some of this training can be carried out by Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) like Alert Force, but a great deal of training happens on the job. Safe Work Australia has a detailed website with plenty of resources to help you create your own training programs. 


Safe work in Australia 

Employers who provide health and safety information for employees are providing the first important step to keeping everyone safer and healthier in the workplace. It’s certainly a contributing factor to the significant reduction in workplace fatalities since 2007. And if you’re struggling to understand your WHS responsibilities — or keep having recurring incidents involving chemical leaks, manual handling, or storage — contact professionals like STOREMASTA for carrying out risk assessments, improving your chemical storage areas, and AlertForce for getting your managers, supervisors and line staff properly trained. Get in touch today. 

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