1. Seek advice
Just because you run a successful business, it doesn't mean you are an expert in all of its aspects. For your first step, find a workplace and health safety (WHS) consultant to help you identify risks in your work environment and advise you on how to minimise them. Also, seek their help in developing formal and informal training programs as well as resources like 'How to' posters and manuals. Spending money in the short term on essentials like this will give your WHS program a strong foundation, and could well save you money in the long run.
2. Conduct an induction program
Develop a comprehensive induction program so that, from day one, your staff are aware of and understand your WHS policy and procedures – as well as your commitment to their wellbeing. Also provide information about fire and emergency response and workplace hazards and how to report them. Emphasise that safety isn't just about how to lift correctly, but is also about being aware of and reporting potential risks.
3. Formalise on-the-job training
There's no better way to learn and retain information than to put it into practice, so follow up induction with some practical training. Assign an onboarding buddy for each new worker – someone who is at the same level but has been in the business long enough to know how it operates and what's required on a daily basis. While you're likely to have a range of ages and experience in your new hires, a buddy can pass on valuable knowledge to younger team members and maybe rectify some bad or risky habits in older ones.
4. Appoint health and safety mentors
Giving your employees adequate support is key to their safety. Appoint a mentor to each new hire so they can feel confident they have someone to turn to who will happily give them advice and answer their questions – big and small – about safe work practices. Establishing a reliable and familiar communication channel at the start means employees are more likely to trust their mentor and speak up about their concerns.
5. Develop a consultative culture
A healthy workplace culture means happier and more productive employees, but how do you go about achieving it? All too often, time and work pressures push away meaningful two-way communication, so it’s up to you to set aside dedicated time to seek your employees' feedback and simply 'chew the fat'. You ultimately want a culture where your team members feel comfortable raising safety issues and are identifying and discussing risks.
6. Invest in an Employee Assistance Program
An employee's stress levels not only affect their general wellbeing – which is also your concern as their employer – but it can have an impact on how they carry out their daily tasks. Look into setting up an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – an external counselling resource where staff can discuss their professional and private issues.
7. Keep everyone up-to-date
Key principles, duties and rights for both employers and employees regarding workplace safety in Australia are set out in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. You will have covered this in their induction, but make sure you provide your staff with regular updates around regulation changes, particularly regarding specific hazards and the constantly changing technology landscape.
8. Reflect and review
After a WHS incident occurs, take the time to analyse the cause and seek your employees' feedback on what could have been done differently. Adjust your practices accordingly – and your training if need be. Also, ask your employees on a regular basis about your WHS program and whether they find it effective and how it can be improved. If your employees feel as though they have input into your WHS program, they are more likely to put it into practice.
The procedures for reporting an employee's injury vary from state to state in Australia, and you can find the work health and safety authority in your jurisdiction from Safe Work Australia. The state organisations can also provide information about your duties under workers compensation legislation to ensure their safe return to work after a work-related injury or illness.
Now is the time to put your employees' safety first.