Robyn discusses the benefits of consulting and communicating in your workplace. This column appeared in the April 2021 edition of Workplace Issues.
Having a safety policy and set of safe work procedures in place, machine guarding on your equipment, locked storage for your chemicals, mechanical aids to lift heavy loads — all are important for the safety and health of your workers.
But underpinning all these measures, and crucial to their ongoing success, is consultation with your workers. It’s the essential foundation of every step you take to improve safety and health in your workplace.
Consultation means providing your workers with information and taking into account their views before making decisions affecting WHS: so, before writing your policy and procedures, designing a new building, buying the trolley for moving supplies, or installing the machine guarding.
By drawing on the knowledge and experience of your workers (and their representatives, and your contractors and any volunteers), you can make more informed decisions about how the work in your business should be carried out safely. Don’t underestimate your workers’ input: they often have first-hand knowledge, experience and ideas about how to reduce safety risks, make improvements and find solutions.
Consultation is legally required under our WHS laws. There are some very specific times when you must consult, including when identifying hazards and assessing risk, and making decisions about what measures you’ll put in place to reduce or remove those risks; and when proposing changes to your work environment, processes, practices, or purchasing decisions (for example, of chemicals or equipment) that affect workers’ health and safety.
What specifically does safety consultation look like? It’s discussing new initiatives or existing challenges face to face with your workers, or sending emails where you ask your workers for their input and feedback on the matter at hand. It’s having safety representatives and committees who are active and engaged with their in the workplace, regularly talking with you and with your workers. It’s engaging with workers through safety sessions at inductions, toolbox meetings, and in training sessions. It’s welcoming their input, giving it serious consideration and giving feedback on whether or not the input is being accepted.
But I would encourage you to think beyond mere compliance. As well as shaping your hazard management, genuine and thorough consultation can contribute to a positive, robust workplace culture, where everyone has shared safety values, where safety is top of mind always, and prevention is prioritised. In best practice it moves beyond consultation to co-designing solutions with safety intentionally part of the process design. It’s where everyone thinks and acts safely.
A safe workplace is more easily achieved when everyone involved in the work communicates with each other and works together to identify hazards and risks, talks about any WHS concerns, and works together to find solutions.
And the benefits of those outcomes are higher productivity, less staff turnover and stress leave. I’m sure every employer or business owner wants to achieve that.