General workplace safety primer

By Craig Carlyle, Maintenance Transformations

When dealing with health and safety in the workplace, the biggest hurdle is the confusion about the requirements.

It sounds hard so it must be hard.

Uninformed gossip and “I’ve got a mate who…” comments don’t help the conversation when trying to ease business operators out of entrenched positions.

Let’s face it, health and safety suffers from bad PR.

The nett result is there are still a lot of workplaces out there putting workers at risk, as evidenced by WorkSafe’s regular prosecutions. Health and safety is in fact very simple if you have a solid understanding of your requirements. If you think health and safety is too hard, stop listening to all the things that you must do, put down your reverse parking signs, and start understanding your actual legal requirements.

The core duties to fulfil our responsibilities under the health and safety statute are covered in the H&S At Work General Regulations. The legally blinding Regulation expands on duties and set standards for managing certain risks and hazards. If you read WorkSafe prosecutions, this is where most defendants go wrong. It makes sense then, to understand what the Regulation describes.

The Regulation is built of four parts. Once you peel the PC speak aside, it is simple and informative.

The core section is Part 1, General Duties. This section describes:

  • Risk management process to be followed.
  • Duty to identify hazards.
  • Hierarchy of control measures.
  • Duty to maintain effective control measures.
  • Duty to review control measures.
  • Supervision, training, and instruction of workers.
  • General workplace facilities.
  • First aid.
  • Emergency plans.
  • Personal protective equipment.

Part 1 defines that we need to consider what could harm our workers, do something to control those risks, make sure the controls are in place and working, and then reassess the identified hazards and controls.

From your understanding of what could go wrong, you should then supervise instruct and train workers, so they are not harmed by your hazards.

What is difficult about that? Yet this is where most prosecutions stem from.

As an example, if you are running an engineering business that fabricates 2T beams and your forklift is so inadequate that a worker has to sit on the end to balance the lift, your responsibility is not to ignore the obvious.

The Regulation then goes on to describe minimum standards for workplace facilities, access to first aid, emergency plans for reasonably expected situations and the issue and care of PPE.

The other parts of the Regulation (Part 2- Management of particular risks, Part 3- Duties relating to exposure monitoring and health monitoring, Part 4- Young persons at workplace) may or may not have relevance depending on the individual workplace, but the first Part is inescapable, identify what could go wrong and do something about it.

Guidelines and codes are used to describe best practices for dealing with hazards. There is nothing about blindly following health and safety fashion, listening to gossip, or imposing unworkable rules. The H&S Act underscores your mandate to manage, and the judge would be expecting some clear and logical management decisions, not a head in the sand attitude.

Craig Carlyle is director at Maintenance Transformations. His expertise lies in the practical application of maintenance and health and safety management systems in the workplace. He is also a life member of the Maintenance Engineering Society of NZ.

The information and opinions within this column are not necessarily the views or opinions of Xpress Engineer NZ, NZ Engineering News or the parent company, Hayley Media.