Safe Work Australia: Businesses need to improve OHS consultation and justice

Up to one-quarter of employers do not frequently empower their workers through active consultation around safety and do not always treat their workers justly – especially when investigating accidents, according to Safe Work Australia research.

Furthermore, small businesses in particular are less likely to empower their workers when it comes to health and safety and justice in their workplace, said Safe Work Australia’s Dr Sophie Lindquist.

The report on employers’ beliefs about how well they manage work health and safety in their workplace revealed that managers, particularly in small businesses, need support to help them improve work health and safety compliance.

“The report examines how employers perceive their own approach to safety in an organisation,” said Lindquist.

“In particular, we look at issues of empowerment and justice – how Australian employers believe they empower their workers to influence health and safety, and whether employers believe they deal with health and safety incidents fairly and justly.”

The research, which took in the views of more than 1050 employers, found that 59 per cent collected accurate information from incident investigations, although small businesses were much less likely to indicate that they collected this information (54 per cent) compared to employers in medium and large businesses (95 per cent and 94 per cent respectively).

Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter said that small businesses account for more than 95 per cent of all Australian businesses and are responsible for the health and safety of approximately 4.8 million workers.

“State and territory work health and safety regulators all have a range of resources to assist small business owners, including free advisory services, information sessions, rebates, fact sheets and tools,” said Baxter.

“Any small business looking for help with their health and safety obligations can contact their local regulator to discuss practical approaches to improving their safety practices.”

The research also found that 10 per cent of employers in the manufacturing and transport, postal and warehousing industries indicated that fear of negative consequences discouraged workers in their business from reporting near miss incidents either most of the time or always.

Furthermore, employers in the accommodation and food services industry were much less likely to indicate that their business collects accurate information in accident investigations (32 per cent), while just over half of employers in the healthcare and social assistance industry (57 per cent) indicated that their business knows when to report incidents to the regulator.

Employers also displayed more frequent management safety justice in their businesses if they employed apprentices and young workers.

Employers in the manufacturing industry had the highest perceptions of work health and safety management capabilities occurring in their businesses.

In terms of safety outcomes, over the five year period from 2008–09 to 2012–13, the incidence rate of serious claims in the manufacturing industry fell by 16 per cent, from 21.2 serious claims per 1000 employees to 17.9.

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