On Tuesday 28 April, the world marked World Day on Safety and Health at Work, which for most countries had a greater level of significance with the current challenges faced by the coronavirus pandemic.
A lot of our workforces are either on the front line fighting the pandemic, or involved in critical services to support the country in its efforts to maintain the economy and our health and safety during this period.
In the workplace, each organisation has had to adopt stringent social distancing and hygiene practices which, as discussed in last week’s bulletin, may continue for some time as we transition into a return to business.
Theme – Stop the pandemic: Safety and health at work can save lives
As you might expect, the theme this year is about stopping the pandemic.
And in the lead up to World Day on Safety and Health at Work, the Federal Government announced some key principles that will apply in that transition. These principles, which will supplemented by more detailed, practical guides developed by Safe Work Australia, were:
- All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
- The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
- To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
- As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
- Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
- Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
- Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating that constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
- Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
- States and Territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
- The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.
Supporting the theme
The World Day on Health and Safety at Work offers an opportunity for all workplaces to take active steps to promote safety in the workplace, whether it is related to COVID-19 or more general safety issues.
The day itself has been observed around the world for more than 15 years as a day to promote the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally and is part of a campaign to raise awareness on the impact and significance of work-related injuries and diseases.
This year, we are probably more conscious than ever about the safety issues related to COVID-19, being:
- physical distancing;
- good hygiene and cleanliness; and
- using PPE.
And while we may not need a reminder about these aspects, it is important to start to turn our minds as to how we maintain those controls, in light of the principles announced by the Prime Minister, in our own workplaces.
You might also want to take the opportunity to arrange some activities to promote the approach your organisation will take to maintaining a healthy and safe work environment, such as:
- organising a virtual afternoon tea or toolbox talk to discuss work health and safety;
- arranging for a senior manager to speak via video conferencing at your workplace on safety issues;
- sharing social media posts about work health and safety; and
- chatting about work health and safety in your online meetings.