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Safety practitioners and advisers

For: Employers and managers Advocates Information seekers

Safety practitioners and advisers can improve work health and safety by supporting leaders and encouraging workers in their commitment to health and safety in the workplace.


The safety practitioner role explained

A safety practitioner educates and supports an organisation's executives, managers, workers and health and safety representatives (HSRs) to understand their responsibilities under work health and safety laws. Many organisations have in-house safety practitioners.

Key tasks may include:

  • developing and implementing reporting procedures
  • notification of incidents
  • to the Regulator
  • investigation of work health and safety incidents
  • reviewing and updating work health and safety policies and procedures
  • advising managers and workers on work health and safety risk management
  • helping workers with health concerns and issues
  • doing assessments, such as workstations and return to work arrangements
  • making recommendations for process improvements
  • working with health and safety committees
  • supporting health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employee representatives
  • liaising with employers and work health and safety entry permit holders if an issue arises.

Duties of a safety practitioner

Duties as a worker

All workers, including health and safety practitioners, have duties under section 28 of under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act). These duties include taking reasonable care for your own psychological and physical health and safety and that your actions or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons. This would include:

  • asking a supervisor if you are not sure how to safely perform your work
  • participating in safety training
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) you are given
  • reporting hazards or work practices you feel may be unsafe
  • following operational procedures such as safe work method statements
  • following relevant safety manuals and emergency procedures
  • complying with relevant codes of conduct
  • understanding and following internal incident reporting processes

Duties as a safety practitioner

As a safety practitioner, your duty as a worker to take ‘reasonable care’ is proportionate to the control you can exercise over your work activities and your work environment. You should consider what is expected of you in carrying out your work and discharging your responsibilities according to the skills and expertise expected of a person holding themself out to be able to undertake your safety practitioner role.

For example, safety practitioners are generally expected to take reasonable care to:

  • work with management to identify safety problems and find solutions
  • act on health and safety matters where you have influence
  • promote psychological and physical health and safety as part of your daily work
  • contribute to quality data and information which measures health and safety compliance.
  • help the 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) meet broader work health and safety obligations including:
  • health and safety monitoring and maintenance
  • development and improvement of organisational health and safety management systems.

Liabilities

A worker who does not comply with a duty imposed on them under the WHS Act commits an offence and may be subject to a prosecution resulting in a fine and, for an offence that exposes an individual to the risk of serious injury of death, the possibility of imprisonment.

Offences and penalties are set out in Part 2 Division 5 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Practical strategies

Consulting effectively

A safe and healthy workplace is more easily achieved when all levels work together to find solutions to hazards and risks.

You can help by:

  • encouraging senior leaders and managers to share health and safety information with workers
  • facilitating open discussions between managers and workers
  • ensuring that worker views are given adequate consideration.

Consultation explained

Consultation means to appropriately inform workers, invite and consider their response.

The Work Health and Safety Act (2011) states that the 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with workers who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a matter relating to psychological and physical health and safety at work.

This includes:

  • when identifying hazards and risks arising from work
  • when making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise risks
  • when making decisions about facilities for the welfare of workers
  • when proposing changes that may affect the health or safety of workers
  • when making decisions about procedures for
    • consulting with workers
    • resolving health or safety issues
    • monitoring of workers' health or workplace conditions
    • providing information and training for workers
  • when carrying out other prescribed activities.

Consultation must involve any HSRs that represent the workers.

Strategies for effective consultation

You can improve workplace consultation by:

  • providing ways for workers to give feedback
  • displaying health and safety information prominently
  • having clearly written health and safety policies and procedures
  • encouraging managers to prioritise health and safety at team meetings
  • preparing reports and providing strategic advice for other workplace programs
  • building work health and safety into business planning and practices.

Engaging workers in consultation

Manager and worker participation and ownership of their own health and safety can be increased by encouragement to:

  • submit their thoughts on health and safety to their managers or direct to your work health and safety team
  • become actively involved in work health and safety in their workplace
  • keep up-to-date with changes in the laws
  • stay informed through their intranet, notice boards and Comcare’s website
  • talk to their health and safety representatives about issues and ideas for health and safety
  • lead by example by putting work health and safety procedures into practice.

Managing barriers

Consultation often fails due to:

  • unclear messages
  • lack of emotional resonance in your message
  • inaccurate targeting
  • poor timing
  • no genuine feedback processes.

You can tackle these barriers by:

  • engaging people on an emotional level
  • providing clear messages with concrete examples
  • thinking about what you say and how you say it
  • backing up written material with verbal communication
  • providing regular updates.

Working with health and safety representatives (HSRs)

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) can play key roles in getting people on board with new initiatives. They represent the interests and concerns of workers and provide valuable insight, skills and resources.

As a safety practitioner, you should:

  • Give HSRs full support and access to necessary equipment and facilities.
  • Understand the role and function of the HSR and other representatives.
  • Involve HSRs as potential champions to assist in the promotion of work health and safety in your team
  • Consult regularly with HSRs, even if it is informally.
  • Arrange specific meetings with HSRs for key issues such as high-risk areas, proposed changes in the workplace and health surveillance issues.

Support work health and safety entry permit holders

The WHS Act allows for union officials who have completed an approved training course to apply for a work health and safety entry permit.

Work health and safety entry permit holders are entitled to enter workplaces and exercise certain rights, including to inspect things and talk to workers, while at the workplace.

You must not:

  • without reasonable excuse, refuse or unduly delay an entry permit holder from entering a workplace
  • intentionally and unreasonably hinder or obstruct an entry permit holder from entering a workplace or exercising any rights.

Influencing upwards

Influencing upwards is an essential skill for a safety practitioner or adviser.

By understanding factors that impact on your organisation, you will be better able to influence senior leaders and drive the agenda for health and safety.

Factors include:

  • stakeholder expectations
  • underlying cultural issues
  • knowledge of contemporary safe work practices.

Some practical tips for influencing upwards include:

  • Understand the importance of marketing health and safety to all leadership levels.
  • Show leadership through actions that align with the organisation's vision for the future.
  • Understand the point of view of leadership and use it as a starting point for influencing safety culture.
  • Use existing governance and decision-making forums to promote health and safety issues and strategies.
  • Consider the best medium for communication, such as face to face or email.
  • Use business language relevant to your audience.
  • Provide information that justifies the outcomes you are seeking.
  • Outline how your request will assist senior leaders and managers to do their jobs more effectively.
  • Use internal staff to help with marketing and communication strategies and business processes.
  • Demonstrate your commitment to health and safety by modelling leadership behaviours.
  • Provide consistent advice, guidance and messages.

Motivating and engaging

You can effectively engage managers and workers by being clear about the level of commitment needed and by considering other business priorities they may have.

You can also assist managers and workers to be more engaged by:

  • encouraging them to contribute at meetings
  • encouraging them to seek information from your intranet
  • using all your available channels to engage your audience (meetings, web, intranet, email, blogs, posters)
  • establishing an open and constructive approach to talking to colleagues and managers
  • making regular contact with colleagues who have barriers to communication, for example, workers in remote and isolated work locations, on shift work or working from home.

Managing risk during workplace change

Any workplace change can significantly impact on the overall health and wellbeing of workers. It is essential that all levels of your organisation adopt a risk management approach to manage hazards associated with the process.

Your role is to assist a 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) to identify and manage any change management risks and hazards. You are often the key link between senior leadership and managers in:

  • clarifying who is responsible for driving the change process
  • communicating key change issues to your workers
  • empowering workers by getting them involved in implementing the change in their workplace and providing feedback on systems, policies and procedures.

During times of workplace change it is important to consider the mental health and wellbeing of workers as part of an integrated approach to risk management and corporate planning. This includes workers who are away as a result of injury or illness or taking part in a rehabilitation program.

For more information refer to our guidance on how managers can support worker mental health.

Improving skills and performance

As a safety practitioner or adviser, you should regularly review your skills to identify if you need additional training. You and your business may benefit from a broader range of skills such as:

  • negotiation
  • effective listening and communication skills
  • issue resolution
  • influencing for desired outcomes
  • meeting and presentation skills.

These skills can help you assess the viewpoints of senior leaders, managers and workers and strategically market the importance and benefits of health and safety.

Actively engaging with other safety practitioners and advisers, in similar industries and through professional associations, can provide valuable opportunities to share better practice and lessons learnt.

Promoting health and safety performance

Some practical tips for health and safety promotion include:

  • Run regular campaigns focusing on the top five or ten most dangerous hazards in the workplace.
  • Create a focal point for safety awareness specific to your business, such as:
    • psychosocial
    • change management
    • body stressing and manual tasks
    • trips, slips and falls
    • driver fatigue
    • being hit by a moving object.
  • Track your progress throughout the year and identify focal points for the following year.You could use positive performance indicators, injury and claims data, notifications and rehabilitation or return to work data.

Training for safety advisers

We provide training through our learning management system called Comcare LMS.

To access our training, you first need to create an account in Comcare LMS (see the steps to create an account). Then, select the training item that you are interested in and login with your email and password.

For more information about the training we offer, see Training and learning.

Page last reviewed: 12 September 2022
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GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 10 Dec 2022

https://www.comcare.gov.au/roles/safety-practitioners