Poor physical work environment:
- means workers are exposed to unpleasant, poor quality or hazardous working environments or conditions
- includes performing hazardous tasks (such as work at heights), working in hazardous conditions (such as near unsafe machinery or hazardous chemicals), or doing demanding work while wearing personal protective equipment that is poorly fitted, heavy, or reduces visibility or mobility
- includes conditions that affect concentration, like high noise levels, uncomfortable temperatures or poor lighting; and unpleasant conditions such as poorly maintained amenities, unpleasant smells or loud music
- includes working with poorly maintained equipment, such as equipment that has become unsafe, noisy or started vibrating
- includes work-related accommodation that causes fatigue, like conditions that are noisy, uncomfortable or that stop workers getting enough sleep.
Identify and assess the risks
To learn if there is poor physical work environment in your workplace (or the potential for it) look at everything from the work environment to work tasks, how they’re carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.
- Consult your workers. They may tell you they feel stressed, worried, afraid, uncomfortable or distracted. They may raise concerns about possibly injuries, fatigue or things going wrong. Talk with your health and safety reps and committee too.
- Observe work and behaviours. workers not wearing PPE may be a sign it isn’t fitted properly or you may be able to observe physical hazards such as noisy plant in the workplace.
- Review information such as overtime records, time off, injuries, incidents and near misses, and workers compensation claims.
- Use surveys and tools. If you have more than 20 workers may find the People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tool useful. Head4Work is suitable if you have 20 or less workers (see Psychosocial hazards resources).
- Have a way for workers to report their concerns, and treat these seriously and respectfully. That will encourage reporting and help you fix the problem.
- Identify other hazards present and consider them together. Hazards can interact and combine to create new, changed or higher risks. For example, a poor physical environment may create a higher risk in workplaces with high job demands because workers are distracted or in a hurry.
Consider how long, how often and how severely workers are exposed to hazards. The longer, more often and worse the poor physical work environment, the higher the risk that workers may be harmed.
Practical control measures
Here are some ideas for control measure that can help you prevent and manage poor physical work environment.
Specific duties may also apply under the WHS laws for managing a poor physical environment. For example, how to manage the risks of plant in the workplace. See our Hazards and solutions A-Z and Codes or practice, including the code of practice Managing the Work Environment and Facilities.
Risk assess tasks to ensure that adequate controls are in place
Ignore feedback from workers about environmental conditions
Regularly assess environmental conditions such as heat, noise, chemicals in atmosphere, dust
Provide inadequate or inappropriate PPE because workers may not use it and it may not be effective
Monitor specifically at the area where the workers are located
Ignore your risk assessments and the controls
Make sure there are controls in place to protect workers, such as regular rest breaks, properly fitting PPE
Review your control measures
You must review your control measures to check they are working as planned. If your control measures aren’t managing the hazard or is creating new risks, you must make changes.
Get feedback from those affected by the changes, and include them in any modifications to their workplace or work routines. Look at your incident records to see if numbers are going down.
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