advice

COVID-19 – Your OHS FAQs answered

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on workplaces and the way we work across Australia have been profound. Apart from the impact on jobs and the level of business activity, many of us have become entrenched in a ‘strange’ new world of working from our home offices, kitchen / dining tables or (in the worst case) lounges.

For those of us who have continued to work at worksites you’ll surely have noticed several changes reflecting a focus on continuous cleaning and disinfecting regimes, as well as social distancing measures.

In this article we answer some commonly asked questions in relation to how employers and leaders can position their workplace to best address some of the key work health and safety, COVID-specific challenges that are likely to arise in the coming months ahead.

 

What can I do to support my employees to return to a safe workplace?

It is also being widely speculated that many workers will wish to continue to work from home when we return to work (KPMG May 2020). Of course, many employees will come back to workplaces, particularly those who are in customer facing roles or who work on remote sites.

For many organisations there remains a need for work to be conducted in workplaces. So there workplaces will be keen to get back into it. As such, over the coming weeks some businesses will see their employees return in some capacity or another.

Many people will be nervous about travelling to and from work on public transport (in spite of social distancing laws) and working in close proximity to colleagues.

 

 

So, it will be critical to ensure a systematic approach to controlling the COVID-19 related risk and ensure that infections do not appear or recur.

At a minimum, consider doing the following to achieve this:

  • Ensure that a cleaning program is in place which involves daily (or greater, depending on your business) sanitisation of commonly used areas (lift buttons, counters, kitchen benches, foyers etc). For service based workplaces such as retail / food outlets this may include cleaning every few hours or even hourly. This will be especially important if ‘hot desking’ is to continue.
  • Ensure that ample supplies of personal cleaning equipment are available to employees. Consult with them in determining what these should be.
  • Protect your workers by aligning them in teams so that in the event of an outbreak, reinfection is minimised. Support spreading commuter loads on public transport by (where possible) staggering start and end times for workers.
  • Provide signage and direction to ensure that social distancing rules are maintained.
  • Consider banning visitors from your workplace. Or, if you must have visitors, provide sanitiser for them (as well as your workers) to use upon entering and exiting your workplace. Screen them to ensure that they are feeling well.
  • Mandate all workers who do not feel well must remain at home and encourage them to get tested for COVID-19.
  • Be prepared to close the workplace down and send all workers home in the event of a worker in the workplace developing COVID-19.

These and other steps should be implemented in a systematic and planned way and constantly monitored and reviewed to ensure that the overall risk is controlled. On line web based OHS Management platforms such as Safety Champion will make this job easier and allow easier reporting and management of COVID-19 related issues

 

How can I get my workforce involved in our ‘new normal’?

It is important to involve your workers when making decisions about how to return to work or any other changes you are making to manage COVID. Additionally, continue to involve your workers over time so you can monitor the effectiveness of what you are doing and adjust, as required.

Involving your team in the design of control initiatives, inspecting workplace(s) to ensure that implemented controls are still in place, and encouraging stakeholders to report issues including breaches of the rules, and taking action to resolve these are essential to manage this risk.

 

What can I do to ensure our employees are mentally ok with returning to work?

It is likely that many of us will all be nervous coming back to workplaces. In addition, those who have remained at work may be nervous about their colleagues returning.

 

 

Steps that could be taken to assure nervous employees may include:

  • Permitting employees in non-customer facing roles to remain working from home and checking in frequently to determine a future return date.
  • Empowering employees to determine their work start times to facilitate travel on less crowded public transport. Blended wok days incorporating home and office based work may also be an option.
  • Ensuring that employees, no matter how senior, who breach COVID-19 control rules are appropriately counselled not to do it again. This would include immediately sending employees who present with cold/flu like symptoms.
  • Supporting what is being done to control COVID-19 with signage and visible direction. Visible examples of your commitment to managing the COVID-19 risk will be constantly reassuring to your employees.
  • Ensuring ongoing communications with your employees to listen to their concerns take action to address them in consultation with their colleagues and review the effectiveness of what is done.
  • Employees who are distressed about returning to work may benefit from assistance from a mental health professional via an Employee Assistance Scheme or similar

 

If one of my workers contracts COVID-19 at our workplace – or worse, there is an outbreak – what are the OHS legal ramifications?

An outbreak of COVD-19 in your workplace will have a dramatic effect on your business – a shutdown and deep clean would be an immediate consequence. From a legislative point of view, you may be liable for not providing a safe workplace for your employees if you do nothing to manage the risk of infection in your workplace.

 

What about industrial manslaughter law – does this apply to COVID?

In addition, industrial manslaughter laws (relating to Employers and associated Company Officers) are coming into effect in Victoria in July 2020. Similar laws are already in place in other states around Australia (Queensland, Northern Territory, and the ACT).

 

 

If you are a Company Officer, the best way to avoid an Industrial Manslaughter and workplace safety related prosecution will be to ensure that preventative steps are taken to control COVID-19 in your workplace in a systematic way (see above). In any case, an employee testing positive may also eventuate a worker’s compensation claim, which could affect your premium and cost you money.

Read more on industrial manslaughter law and what you need to know here.

 

What are my responsibilities to my team who continue to work from home?

State and Territory workplace safety laws across Australia are based on the duty of an employer to provide a safe workplace. This duty extends to an employee if they are working from home. Employers have choice as to how extensively they satisfy this duty.

Yet, there is some uncertainty as to where an employer’s duty to safety of their works ends.

Some employers may supply workstation and ergonomic equipment to ensure that the worker is set up in a safe home office. Whilst others may require the employee to manage their own equipment needs and workstation setup.

Yet, the latter approach places the employer at increased risk of breaching their duty as it leaves greater chance of a worker developing an injury due to poor workstation setup.

 

 

At a minimum an employer should ensure that a worker has a suitable home workstation, knows how to report a safety issue and to whom, has a home office evacuation procedure in place, has a first aid kit, fire extinguisher/smoke alarm at home and that some form of protection against electrocution from faulty office equipment is in place.

It is a good idea to get all workers working from home to complete a ‘working from home checklist’ specifying these items are in place and also to sign a documented ‘working from home agreement’ so that all parties are clear on when work from home will be taking place.

Also revisit the agreement on an annual basis. All work-from-home employees should redo the checklist before resigning the agreement. Having these basic steps in place will provide comfort that work from home is being managed adequately.

 

What should I be thinking about to plan ahead?

Some of the challenges that employers may have to face in the not too distant future include – but are not limited to – the following:

  • Psychosocial hazards. Where will the dividing line be between a work-based and home-based psychosocial related injury? Employers should be very aware of emerging hazards in this area. Consider a proactive response strategy in which workers are constantly monitored for stress levels and counselled for home-based issues that may impact workplace performance.
  • Hours vs Output. Will the focus of work have to change from a time based 8-hour work day to one where outcomes are measured? Will management of workers need to be reviewed in order to avoid the creation of undue stress? While the technology exists to monitor output by keystroke rates etc. will this be the best way to ensure a productive workplace and a happy worker?
  • Working Together. How will team-based work be managed with some workers working from home and some from work? How will appropriate distances be upheld? Will there be a risk of screen overload through online meetings and how will this be managed?
  • Infection Control. For industries for which infection control is critical (such as Aged Care and Hospitality) how will employee infection control skills be raised quickly and in a cost-effective way? How will the risk of infection be adequately controlled?

 

Concluding remarks

As OHS professionals we have been excited (not in a weird way) by the challenges presented to us following the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak. For, arguably, the first time a specific workplace safety issue has been in the headlines for more than one day!

We are also impressed with the way that workplaces have responded resulting in rapid and effective control of COVID so far. Workers and managers at all levels of organisations have consulted and worked together to demonstrably minimise the risk.

We need this passion transferred into other safety areas!

Adopting the practice of identifying workplace hazards, assessing risk associated with them, implementing controls to manage the risk, and reviewing effectiveness of these controls, as was shown for COVID, works in making your workplace safer. And this works best if company owners and executives lead!

We at Action OHS Consulting want the passion to continue and want to support you all to ‘do a COVID’ for other safety challenges your workplace faces.

 

Resources to support a COVID-ready return to work

Contact Action OHS Consulting if you need specific advice in relation to opening up your workplace post COVID-19, or if you need assistance in managing your workforce from home. Alternatively check out the following websites for specific technical advice:

Safe Work Australia COVID-19 information

Environmental cleaning and disinfection principles for COVID-19

Department of Health – COVID-19 infection control training – Although designed for health care workers it may be useful to get workers to undertake, especially if they handle food and serve clients.

Industrial manslaughter law – What you need to know

In Victoria, from July 1 this year, the consequences of a workplace fatality will become far more serious for employers who are not providing a safe workplace. This date marks the passing of the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 – Workplace Manslaughter into law.

This will bring Victoria broadly in line with industrial manslaughter legislation in Queensland and the ACT, while similar laws are mooted to follow in WA and the Northern Territory.

Senior OHS Consultant, Stephen Pehm, outlines what you need to know about this legislation as an employer or leader, along with considerations for strengthening your workplace health and safety practices.

 

An overview of the legislation

This Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 – Workplace Manslaughter lists the following objects (New Part 5A Section 39a);

  • prevent workplace deaths
  • deter persons who owe certain duties under Part 3 (general duties)
  • Reflect the severity of conduct that places life at risk in the workplace.

The legislation aims to realise these objects by defining the offence of workplace manslaughter through negligence contributing to the death of another person (New Part 5A Section 39G).

 

 

The purpose of these new amendments is to hold the workplace parties with the power and resources to maintain and improve safety – namely employers and Corporate Officers – to account if a person (including a non-employee) is killed in their workplace as a result of unsafe work practices being carried out.

For a conviction to be recorded it would have to be proven that the death was directly due to the negligence of the employer or Corporate Officer in maintaining workplace safety.

Negligence is defined in section 39 (E) as “a great falling short of the standard of care that would have been taken by a reasonable person in the circumstances in which the conduct was engaged in.”

It would also have to be proven that the negligence occurred for a high-risk work activity which caused the harm. Note that these may include psychosocial and illness based risk related activities and may be applied retrospectively.

 

A brief overview of the penalties

Penalties for industrial manslaughter are significantly more serious than those currently in place for conviction under the Victorian OHS Act 2004 (up to five years goal and $3.2 million fine (20,000 penalty units) for a corporation ($290 thousand – 1800 penalty units – for an individual).

If you are convicted under the industrial manslaughter legislation you may be imprisoned for up to 20 years and fined $16.5 million (100,000 ‘Penalty Units’).

If charged with industrial manslaughter, a court would need to be satisfied of three factors before making a finding of guilt:

  • whether there was negligent conduct;
  • whether there was a breach of a safety duty; and
  • whether the conduct and breach lead to the death of a person.

 

OHS advice for next steps

The most effective way that an employer can avoid a prosecution under this legislation is to ensure that a safe workplace is provided for all work activities and that effective workplace safety based consultation is taking place.

For a safe workplace to be provided all high risk activities being carried out by that employer must have demonstrably effective safety controls in place to ensure that the risk of serious harm or death were minimised as far as is reasonably practicable.

Such controls would broadly include:

  • Systems of work in place that specify how work tasks are to be carried out safely;
  • training of all workers to carry out their tasks safely, follow safety rules, engage in meaningful workplace consultation about hazard control and report all safety related issues / participate in safe resolution of these issues;
  • Use of standards compliant equipment and personal protective equipment where applicable all of which is maintained as per manufacturer’s instructions;

In addition, it would have to be demonstrably clear that all workplace parties were regularly discussing emerging and existing safety related risks and monitoring the effectiveness of controls.

 

Evidence and appropriate action

Having a system in place for ensuring the outcomes above are actively being achieved with evidence gathered to prove what you are doing so is the easiest way to avoid an industrial manslaughter prosecution.

All of the above activities require all workplace stakeholders – that is, executives, managers, supervisors, and employees/contractors/visitors – to be aware of their responsibilities and carry them out effectively. In addition, evidence should be gathered and monitored to demonstrate that everything is under control and that the risk of a workplace incident is not just around the corner.

However, it can be difficult to ensure that all stakeholders have access to the data and information they need at all times. Plus keeping track of the evidence across complex workplace settings can be challenging.

 

Woman working on laptop

 

While maintaining a paper based system or similar is OK, it can be considerably easier to manage your workplace safety obligations using safety management software. For example, Safety Champion will enable much easier storage and retrieval of information and allow easier monitoring that all of the workplace stakeholders are doing what they are required to.

 

Corporate officers – personal practices

As a Corporate Officer you can best avoid a prosecution for industrial manslaughter by being actively aware of and engaged in the state of safety in your organisation.

If you cannot be confident that your organisation is actively working towards a safer workplace and no one in your organisation can show you evidence of this happening, then you are at risk of being prosecuted in the event of a workplace incident resulting in death or serious injury occurring at your workplace.

Consider these questions;

  • Do you know what is happening across your work activities from a safety perspective or who is accountable for overall implementation of the system?
  • Are you aware of how many workers have been injured, made ill or nearly been injured from workplace activities?
  • Do you know what your WorkCover premium is and how many active WorkCover claims you have?
  • Do you or a colleague at your level regularly attend consultation meetings and do you monitor their outcomes?

Being aware of information such as this can act as the ‘canary in the coal mine’. If you choose not to get up to speed on what is happening in regard to workplace safety across your organisation, or to instigate steps to implement safety, then you increase your risk of being prosecuted for industrial manslaughter should someone be killed or seriously injured by the work you carry out.

 

If you require any assistance with your OHS management system, please reach out to us. Additionally choose from our suite of upcoming training courses to boost your OHS skills, knowledge and capabilities. 

 

To learn more, seek information from your local workplace regulator or trusted legal firm, or;

WorkSafe Victoria: Victoria’s new workplace manslaughter offences

AICD: States toughen WHS laws with new industrial manslaughter offences

 

Special Guidance – Working from Home

To help you and your workforce be productive and work in a collaborative way, it’s important to plan and understand that some changes in ways of working are required. Whilst this can be confronting, if adopted with the right attitude, it does provide opportunities for business improvements.

 

To help you get started, below are some steps for consideration

 

Resetting what was normal for your team

When you go remote, it’s worth taking the time to get together as a team and explicitly articulate what your social norms currently are, and how these may need to change now that you’re working from home. Start with a remote kick-off meeting to agree on expectations around communication, response times, and working hours. Document these.

 

For example, you might agree to simply turn-off chat notifications when you need an hour of undisturbed time. Or change your status in chat to “in a meeting” when you’re on a call, so teammates know not to expect an immediate response.

 

 

Consider others

Working from home means relying more on writing as a form of communication. We lose tone, nuance and the ability to utilise non-verbal cues when communicating by phone, email or chat.

 

To avoid potential misunderstandings, it’s therefore super important to be empathetic and assume positive intent. It’s also why some consideration should be given to, when possible, turning your camera on when meeting with others.

 

Recognise that this time (i.e. COVID-19) is new for many. Workers may be currently challenged with the changes in both their work-life and home-life. This is the time to be empathetic with your colleagues. Put yourselves in their shoes and be patient. The distraction of work can be helpful. But we all need to remember to put our fellow employees first!

 

 

Exercise Trust

We will be learning a lot from this experience and should be open, and collaborative, to ensure we are adjusting our work and personal styles to this situation. Considerations to support trust being maintained:

 

  • Avoid applying the “seat being warm” mentality to how quickly someone responds to an email, phone call or message. Conversely, don’t feel you need to respond to every message to show that you are on task or at your desk, as this is a great way to not get any work done.
  • Working remote means relying more on asynchronous communication as our primary way of communicating. Simply put, this means not expecting an answer immediately.
  • For managers, focus on the work product as the way of measuring performance.
  • For individuals, be intentional about your schedule (if your role allows) and set aside time for email and heads down work.

 

Working from home requires you to manage your own time, be self-motivated, disciplined, and organised.

 

 

Introduce virtual stand-ups

When you’re not chatting with your teammates face-to-face, it’s harder to keep track of what everyone is working on and what’s coming up next. That’s where stand-up meetings come in. This ritual from the agile world helps you stay on the pulse and can easily be done over a video call. So it doesn’t become a distraction, you should aim for it lasting no more than 10/15-minutes. Each person briefly shares:

 

  • What did I work on yesterday?
  • What am I working on today?
  • What issues are blocking me?

 

These shares highlight progress and help flag team blockers. Also, it strengthens the team when everyone shares the progress they’re contributing to the team. The daily reinforcement of sharing individual successes and plans keeps everyone excited about their overall contribution to the organisation.

 

Typically, teams hold stand-ups at the start of each day. This works great for teams that churn through lots of granular tasks each week. If your work is oriented around longer-term projects, you might find that weekly or twice-weekly stand-ups are sufficient. It this is new, focus on the purpose of the stand-up, that being keeping everyone in your team aligned; and the process (i.e. frequency, length, conversation, etc.) will fall into place.

 

 

Stay connected

While you won’t have the water cooler anymore, you can still foster great relationships with your fellow workers, you just need to be intentional about it, and show some curiosity.

 

Here are some ideas that you can put into practice:

 

  • Host a regular team or organisation happy hour virtually
  • Have coffee with someone virtually – say 10:30 am. Once the coffee is finished, the meeting is closed
  • Use WhatsApp, Slack, Microsoft Teams to create new “water cooler” channels for connecting socially with your team.

 

 

 

Setting yourself up at home

Maintaining your usual morning routine puts you in the right frame of mind for work – this means getting out of your pyjamas, showering and getting ready for your day the same way you would as if going to the office. 

 

A dedicated space for working is ideal. But if you’re not set up for that, choose a spot in your home with minimal distractions,  comfortable seating and where possible, some natural light. Avoid your bed or couch where possible. Working in the same place you sleep is poor sleep hygiene and is not recommended. Your brain starts to associate your bed with being alert and productive (who knew!) … not to mention what it does for your posture! For more information on posture take a look at the section “Now to your ergonomics…” below.

 

Create a schedule. It may seem simple, however, set yourself reminders or block out time in your calendar to focus your attention towards a particular task or project; and ensure you schedule in breaks. Stand up and stretch. Fix yourself a cup of coffee. Unload the dishwasher. Five minutes is all it takes to refresh your brain and get ready for another round.

 

 

Importantly, have a conversation with your family or housemates. Working from home is different, and family or housemates may see this as an opportunity to spend time with you, and involve you in their day. Whist this can be fun at first, in the long run, it can be a distraction, and make it difficult for you to work effectively.

 

Set “rules” and/or structure. Can you work with a door closed, meet them in the middle by stopping to have lunch with those under your roof? If you find yourself “patenting” or “caring” for housemates – communicate this to your manager. That way you can discuss how you will manage your expected outputs.

 

 

Now to your ergonomics…

Focus on setting your workstation up safety. This will help reduce aches and pains – often experienced in the shoulders, neck and back.

 

Previously, the Action OHS Consulting Team has developed some tools to assist workers to self-assess their workstation set-up, and we want to share these with you:

 

 

Working off a laptop?

If you’re using a laptop, you may need to be creative. If you can access an external keyboard and mouse, raise your laptop so the screen is at eye level. You may find some purpose for that cookbook that has been collecting dust in your kitchen.

 

Don’t have an adjustable chair?

If you don’t have a height adjustable chair, you may need to consider using pillows to increase your height in your chair, so your elbows are at the height of the desk. This will reduce strain on your shoulders and neck. If your feet are not on the ground, grab a box – and place your feet on the box.

 

Discomfort in the lower back, roll up a towel to create a lumbar support.

 

 

 

How we can assist

Since 9 March 2020, as workplaces commenced instructing workers to work from home, there are a number of initiatives that we have worked on with clients to support this transition. These include:

 

  • Remote Workstation Assessments, where we have provided advice via interviews, photos or surveys.
  • Instructional videos that can be shared with workers to outline how they can actively set-up their workstation safely when working from home.

 

In addition, we have scheduled a number of webinars that will provide you and your team with information outlining how we can all work remotely safely. Review out upcoming webinars here: https://www.safetychampion.com.au/webinar/

 

This assistance is in addition to our comprehensive and proactive workstation assessments, and Online Module: Safe WorkStation Setup. So, rest assured, we have got you covered.

 

If you have any other suggestions or identified things that have worked for you or your team, we would love to hear from you so we can build on this list.

Silicosis; what you need to know, and do, to prevent it

There is good reason for the increased attention in the news over the past few months about the lung disease Silicosis. Not to be taken lightly, the disease has afflicted a number of people in a wide range of industries throughout Australia and around the world, and has even caused death.

 

Certainly, it is time for businesses in the mining, tunnelling, quarry and stonemasonry industry to get a clear understanding of their legislative obligations, as soon as possible. There are many practical actions you can take now to start working towards preventing this disease in your workplace.

 

A great starting point is to first learn about the nature of the disease, in terms of the hazards and risks, which predispose workers to the condition. It is important to understand that silicosis is entirely preventable.

 

 

What is silicosis?

Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing tiny airborne particles of silica – also known as silica dust – into the lungs.

 

As the particles are inhaled they have the potential to penetrate and scar the lung tissue, causing it to become stiffer over time dependent on the duration of exposure and intensity of silica exposure (in terms of the workplace). This prevents the lungs from transferring oxygen into the blood stream properly and can lead to a number of health impacts, including irreversible lung damage, autoimmune disease and premature death.

 

Yet silicosis is a very varied disease, with different levels of risks and health complications. It can develop after a few weeks or even up to a few years after exposure to silica dust. Indeed, different types of silicosis – such as acute silicosis, accelerated silicosis, or chronic silicosis – all develop in different ways and exhibit different symptoms.

 

 

The risk of developing silicosis – with faster progression – increases as the intensity of exposure intensifies.

 

 

Additionally, it should be noted that there are a variety of other diseases and health conditions related to exposure to silica, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer and tuberculosis.

 

It is important to remember that there are often no symptoms at all in the early stages of the disease. So, it’s not wise to believe that simply because no one is coughing, everything is fine.

 

Over time, shortness of breath and coughing are signs of the disease, or another related disease as listed above, may be developing. This can continue to deteriorate over time, impacting a person’s ability to work, perform simple and low impact activities of daily living and to breath at all.

 

 

Who is at risk?

Silica dust finds its way into the lungs of workers in a variety of industries, as they perform many of the most common and everyday tasks related to those job roles.

 

Cutting, grinding, crushing, drilling, sawing, excavating, chiseling, paving, surfacing, polishing… if you use any of these types of words to describe what you or your workers do, it might be time to consider the risks associated with silica dust in your workplace.

 

You might think of those cutting artificial stones first following the media attention, or people working in mining. Certainly people in these industries are at risk. Yet, consider other industries that regularly perform these tasks that you may not think of initially – landscaping, building, stone masonry, or pottery and ceramics.

 

Clearly, the possibility of silica dust affecting the workforce can be widespread across more than one industry.

 

 

Where can silica be found?

Make no mistake, this issue is not only related to workers that cut composite stone for a living. Silica is found in all kinds of stone – natural or otherwise – concrete, mortar, brick, tilers and some plastics.

 

Despite what many people think, silica (SiO2) is actually a naturally occurring mineral. It is the main component of sand and 95% of natural rock. But it is also used to make a variety of artificial or engineered stone products.

 

The significant hazards and risks associated with manufacturing and/or working with artificial or engineered stone is the high crystalline silica content (i.e. greater than 85%).

 

The table below lists the common stone products and their typical crystalline silica content.

Reconstituted stone (eg, Caesarstone, Quantum Quartz, Smartstone) More than 90%
Sandstone 70% to 90%
Granite 25% to 40%
Slate 20% to 40%
Marble Less than 5 %

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

 

 

Practical controls you can put in place

Silicosis is an entirely preventable disease. As such, the controls and measures that each of us put in place in our workplaces have the potential to make significant positive impact to ensure that this disease does not continue to impact Australian morbidity and/or mortality rates in the workforce.

 

Prevention is key. Starting at the top of the hierarchy of controls, here is some practical advice:

Substitution Source composite stone with a lower percentage of crystalline silica
Isolation Enclose areas with dust generating tasks and implement suitable extraction systems that reduce dust exposure in the workplace. Use automation where possible.
Engineering

Minimise the risk of exposure to generated silica dust, with local exhaust ventilation, water suppression (wet cutting), and/or using the correct tools which have inbuilt extraction and water generating capacity.

Should a risk still remain after implementing substitution, isolation, and engineering controls, consider;
Administration Ensure site rules, policies and procedures are suitable and appropriately implemented and managed in your workplace – consider shift rotations and effective training and induction processes.
PPE Ensure that all personal protective equipment is fit for purpose; respiratory equipment (minimum of a P2 efficiency half face respirator) with fit-test processes in place and work clothing that either does not collect dust, or is appropriately laundered or disposed of in the workplace.

 

Additionally, regular and thorough dust monitoring and worker health surveillance is an important and critical part of the process.

 

Action OHS Consulting Pty Ltd can support businesses to identify the degree of the problem in their workplace(s) and support the contextualisation of suitable and appropriate risk control measures to address the hazards and risks in the workplace.

 

Plus, WorkSafe Victoria has compiled some invaluable resources with industry-specific advice about Silicosis. Have a read: https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/crystalline-silica

 

What are your legal responsibilities?

It goes without saying that as an employer, you must provide a safe workplace. What does this involve?

  • Appropriate pre-employment checks;
  • Health surveillance for workers with potential exposure to silica dust;
  • Worker consultation and communication;
  • Implementation, monitoring and review of suitable and appropriate risk controls in accordance with the hierarchy of controls and contextually relevant to the specific hazards and risks in the relevant workplace.

 

 

 

Victorian Amendments 

In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 were amended 20 August 2019 to provide greater protection to Victorian employees working with engineered stone.

Engineered stone as manufactured composite stone that contains resins and has a crystalline silica content of at least 80 per cent. Engineered stone is commonly used as kitchen, bathroom and laundry bench tops.

These amendments now prohibit uncontrolled cutting, grinding and abrasive polishing of engineered stone with power tools.

What does this really mean?

It means that all controls must be properly designed, installed, used and maintained so they stay effective at reducing exposure to crystalline silica dust.

What are the controls you must be across?

  1. Under the amended regulations, it does not matter if you are an employer, self-employed person or person who manages or controls a workplace must ensure a power tool is not used to cut, grind or abrasively polish engineered stone, unless the tool:
  • has an integrated water delivery system that supplies a continuous feed of water (on-tool water suppression). Note: A hand held hose (or other hand held water delivery device) to direct water at the cutting point is NOT considered to be an ‘integrated water delivery system’. An integrated.
  • is fitted with on-tool extraction attached to a HEPA filtered dust class H vacuum cleaner (or similar system that captures the dust generated).

If these controls are not reasonably practicable, the use of power tools must be controlled through local exhaust ventilation (LEV).

  1. It also means that people cutting, grinding or polishing engineered stone with a power tool must be provided with respiratory protective equipment that:
  • is designed to protect the wearer from the inhalation of airborne contaminants entering the nose, mouth and lungs
  • complies with AS/NZS 1716 – Respiratory protective devices.

Air and health monitoring – yes or no?

Employers continue to have an obligation to carry out air monitoring if they are not sure if their employees are exposed to levels of silica dust that are above the exposure standard – i.e. 0.02 mg/m3 a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration over 8 hours.

With respect to this monitoring, employers should carry it out on a regular basis to ensure employee exposure is controlled.

Employers should carry out health monitoring in all workplaces there is exposure to airborne silica, unless air monitoring data shows that exposure is less than 0.02 mg/m3 as a time-weighted average (TWA) airborne concentration over 8 hours.

If you don’t comply?

If you are not able to comply with the requirements for cutting, polishing or abrasively polishing engineered stone with power tools, the work cannot be done. Failing to control risks of dry processing may be a criminal offence.

If you require assistance

You should call us. As a Victorian-based Health and Safety Consulting business, we have the knowledge and capability to support you manage your regulatory needs. If you are a business with less than 60 workers, the OHS Essentials Program is something you should consider to ensure that you remain knowledgeable about silica and your legislative duty. Register your interest here.

 

8 big safety considerations for the Work Christmas Party

In most legal contexts, the work Christmas party is considered part of the work environment. Do you know what that means? Yes, the workplace continues to have a duty to provide a safe work environment.

Indeed, employers have been held liable under both the health and safety legislation, and the workers compensation legislation for incidents that have happened at work Christmas parties.

Whilst recognised as a time to celebrate, it is also a time your organisation should consider and manage the risks involved.

Learn more about “How to host a COVID safe celebration” here

 

Eight of the big ones to consider

Listed below are eight workplace health and safety considerations, which may help you to manage some of the more common health and safety hazards associated with your upcoming end of year celebration. 

 

1. Risk assess.

Involve your Health and Safety Representatives or Health and Safety Team in the event planning. Document a OHS risk assessment that identifies all foreseeable health and safety hazards and their defined control/s. Your safety risk assessment should consider an inspection of the site prior to the event. No Health and Safety Representatives or Health and Safety Team? That’s fine, just ensure that health and safety is a consideration of the team planning the event. How could people get hurt? Then, what can we do to prevent this.

 

2. Remind your employees of your expectations.

In the days prior to the Christmas event, remind staff (by email or memo) about the expected standards of behaviour and the disciplinary consequences that may take place. This should see you reinforce your workplace’s WHS policy, EEO policy and Code of Conduct to all attendees.

 

3. Be clear with when the event will finish.

Clearly set out defined start and finish times for the event and ensure that these are stated on the invitation. Realise that arranging or paying for drinks at an “after event” or “after party” will most likely extend your liability.

 

4. Travel.

How will workers travel to and from the function? Remember that in some jurisdictions, your workers compensation obligations do not just cover the employee’s time at work, but also extends to the journey to and from work – in this case the Christmas or end of year event.

 

5. Manage alcohol.

Needless to say, consumption of alcohol is likely to be a key health and safety risk. Consider restricting the amount of drinks or the strength of drinks that are available. Always have non-alcoholic alternatives available.

 

6. Provide food.

A meal or finger food has been shown to slow down alcohol consumption.

 

7. Supervise!

Someone should be nominated to monitor health and safety hazards such as wet floors, loose cables, behaviour, and manage incidents that may occur during the event. Is there a first aid officer, or emergency warden nominated? Supervision should include monitoring the controls identified within your pre-event health and safety risk assessment.

 

8. Debrief

In the days following the event, review the pre-event health and safety risk assessment and evaluate the effectiveness of the identified health and safety controls. Good documentation at this end will support your planning for next year. Fantastic!

 

What if an incident does occur?

Should an incident occur, it is important that you follow your workplaces incident reporting and investigation process. After managing the incident; consider, if possible, to avoid commencing the incident investigation until people are (sober and) back at the workplace.

 

 

How do you manage the Christmas rush?

Rushing to meet deadlines?

Whilst workers are most often trying to do the right thing by their employer, rushing to meet deadlines will often result in workers cutting corners, making bad judgements or ignoring the controls that have been established to provide a safe working environment.

Management and supervisors should ensure that safety is actively monitored and inspected during this period so that it remains a key focus – let your employees know that “safety” is not entitled to Christmas leave.

 

New or Novice Employees

If Christmas is a period where new employees are hired, or temps engaged to cope with your increased demand, how do you ensure that they are appropriately trained, before letting them loose into the hustle and bustle of Christmas?

Workers have told us that they are less likely to ask questions during this time as they “do not want to cause more work” for their colleagues – this unfortunately often leads to injury.

We have identified that some businesses introduce office based workers into the “shop-front” to support the Christmas rush. Whilst this may bring a united spirit between the office and the shop-front – it is important that the employees who come from the office are appropriately trained and competent.

 

Of course, the end of year work party is supposed to be a fun time. So keep it that way. But actively working through this list and putting measures in place to prevent anything bad from happening is important as well. After all, we all want to spent our end-of-year holidays safe, happy and healthy, with our family and friends. 

 

To learn more about hosting a “COVID safe” end-of-year celebration for 2020 – read this blog next.

Get workplace safety happening this National Safe Work Month!

Every year, October marks National Safe Work Month in Australia. This month is all about encouraging businesses to focus on getting some great workplace health and safety practices up and running.
 
This year’s theme is ‘Be a Safety Champion’.
 
The purpose of this theme is to inspire and empower every worker, to be a champion for health and safety, no matter their occupation or industry. This makes sense, because it is everyone’s responsibility to uphold strong safety practices.
 
In workplace safety, businesses often have good intentions. They are aware that they have a legal obligation to ensure they have safety practices in place. However, it is not always easy to know where to start.
 
During National Safe Work Month, you can find some fantastic resources – many of them free – to give you some direction. At Action OHS Consulting, we provide the following advice to any organisation looking for guidance in safety.

 

1. Look at your operations.

Start by making a list of how you think people might get injured or hurt in your workplace. Then make a list of the things you are doing (or could do) to prevent these injuries/harm from occurring. This is essentially a fantastic beginning for a great safety program.

 

2. Talk to your people.

Set-up a meeting with your workforce – or better still coordinate a lunch or coffee. Invite them to share “anything that makes them feel unsafe”, or “how they think things could be done in a safer way”. Then listen. At the end of the meeting, discuss how future hazards and incidents can be reported and establish some processes so your people know what to do.

 

3. Seek guidance.

Start by going to the Safe Work Australia or WorkSafe Victoria websites this National Safe Work Month, and find great guidance materials or local events you can attend to learn more.
 
FREE TOOLS FOR WORKPLACE SAFETY MANAGEMENT
PLUS, there are many freely available resources available to all Victorian small and medium sized organisations. These are fantastic starting points for any business looking to establish strong safe practices and keep their people safer at work.
 
  • OHS Essentials Visit through WorkSafe Victoria. For businesses with less than 60 workers, this program involves 3 x 2-hour visits by a qualified OHS consultant over a 12 month period for free. Get some great guidance on workplace safety specifically for your needs through this program.
Register for your free visit here
 
  • Free cloud-based OHS Software. Our sister organisation, Safety Champion, launched its “Go Free” Plan. This is a forever free version of Safety Champion Software and is perfect for small and medium sized organisations wanting to keep safety processes on track on an ongoing basis. 
Learn more about what software can do for you here
 
Remember – safety doesn’t have to be as hard or as complicated as you might think. So, follow the steps above this National Safe Work Month to learn how you can be a safety champion in your workplace today.
Experienced, personable safety consultants

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