Safety practitioners and advisers
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 leaders, 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
- 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
As a work health and safety practitioner, you have specific duties and responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act). These include:
- taking care of your own health and safety
- taking care that you do not harm the health and safety of others
- reporting any hazards or work practices you feel may be unsafe
- complying with policies or procedures, such as
- following safety manuals and procedures
- doing safety training
- wearing personal protective equipment
- exercising care and responsibility in your work
- working with management to identify safety problems and find solutions
- following incident reporting processes
- acting on health and safety matters where you have influence
- promoting health and safety as part of daily work
- contributing to quality data and information which measures health and safety compliance.
You may also be responsible for helping the 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) meet broader work health and safety obligations.. This can include:
- health and safety monitoring and maintenance
- development and improvement of organisational health and safety management systems.
If you do not follow the required procedures, you could face penalties under the WHS Act. This may include:
- criminal prosecution
- jail sentences.
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 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), or you as their delegate, must consult with workers, as far as is reasonably practicable, about matters affecting their health and safety at work.
- hazards and risks arising from work
- ways to eliminate or minimise risks
- facilities for the welfare of workers
- changes that affect the health or safety of workers
- procedures for resolving health or safety issues
- monitoring of workers' health or workplace conditions
- activities prescribed by the work health and safety regulations.
Consultation must involve HSRs.
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.
Consultation often fails due to:
- unclear messages
- lack of emotional resonance in your message
- inaccurate targeting
- poor timing
- no genuine feedback process.
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)
Safety practitioner and advisers should involve HSRs in ensuring that workplaces are safe and encouraging workers to report any hazards or risks.
HSRs should reinforce the message that:
- incidents must be reported in line with policies and procedures
- incident sites must be preserved until an inspector attends or advises otherwise.
Support work health and safety entry permit holders
- 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 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.
- 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.
See more information on how to manage workplace change.
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:
- 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:
- 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.