A workplace incident can be devastating for employees but damage to your business reputation may be catastrophic.
A while back I walked outside our building here in Perth and spotted a contractor erecting a sign above the office doorway. He was on his ladder in a busy street with no signs, safety harness or traffic control. I took one look and asked him to stop work immediately and take care of his safety and that of the public around him.
As you would expect he wasn't the “happiest of campers”, why had I stopped him in the middle of this simple task to spend several minute attending to safety measures that probably wouldn’t be needed. He was after all a contractor and not a member of my staff so why was I so concerned.
Apart from my duty of care for people in my workplace and the public near by. I made him stop work and rectify his safety issue because his actions were potentially very bad for my workplaces reputation. He was working at our request on our building in a very public place. Apart from the obvious issue of an injury to himself or passers by, he wasn’t following appropriate protocols. Protocols and ideals that Unity Training teach in that very office.
Imagine the instagram image or facebook post. An image of this contractor upon and unsafe ladder, without safety equipment, erecting a Unity training sign with a caption something like “He obviously didn’t learn much from Unity Training - Certified OH&S and WHR trainers”. That would be the end of our reputation as OH&S training providers and it may also have cost me my job. There would be no one to teach.
That’s the problem these days with social media and cameras everywhere. It's easy for people to see an incident, snap a photo and pretty soon everyone knows what's been happening at your workplace and once it's out there it is very hard to retract.
The effect is far greater if your workplace suffers a fatality. Just last year a young man fell to his death at the Perth post office. A relatively new employee of the contractors working on the site. He was working unsupervised at height with insufficient personal protection equipment and poorly inducted into the workplace. Possibly unaware of the danger his environment posed and the procedure he should follow to keep himself safe. He paid the ultimate price as a result of poor preparation by his employer.
Now image you're looking for work as a labourer on a similar site with that same employer. Would you feel confident that they were doing everything possible to look after you in the workplace? Possibly, but there would always be that element of doubt and give the choice between them and an employer with an exemplary Health and Safety record, who would you choose?
I suspect that this employer is finding it hard to employ new staff. Their reputation has been damaged and may never be repaired.
Similarly if you had a big project and were tendering for contractors to work on your site. Would you place this contractor at the top of the pile of potential contractors or some way down the list? The reputation of your business is at stake. If something was to happen to your contracted staff while working on your businesses project, it's your business reputation that will be tarnished. People don’t refer to the man from XYZ company when discussing the death of this poor young man. He is referred to as the bloke who fell from the Post Office. A blot against the owner of the Post office building and not company XYZ where it belongs.
Also consider the manager tarnished by a breach of OH&S laws on their watch. Would they be seen as a worthy candidate for advancement. The laws are there to be followed and ignorance is no excuse but knowledge of OH&S law its regulations and requirements doesn’t osmotically filter into a workplace. A wise manager would do everything in their power to acquaint themselves of the laws and employ staff trained to implement and deal with OH&S in their workplace. It would help protect their position and future while creating fewer issues and a safer environment for their staff.
A workplace with few issues has staff that go home happy each evening to their families and return each work day to contribute their time to help your bottom line. Happy employees rave about their employer and suggest to friends and families that they should also work for you. Which of course makes it easier to find new employees. Your business reputation is defined by its employees as much as it is your customers.
Happy employees seldom wish to resign, making staff retention easier, reducing Human Resourcing (HR) costs and downtime resulting from up skilling and training new staff. Employees also tend to work harder and take less breaks when they are confident of their safety and don’t suffer from fear, boredom or problems resulting in mental health issues. Keep employees safe, happy and productive and you remove people's reasons to avoid work.
As a manager or business owner you have a responsibility to do everything you can to keep your employees and the public safe while performing their duties. If you or your business is found to have shirked these responsibilities the law can instigate significant fines up to $600,000 and possibly prison terms. But the damage to your reputation could harm the business far more over many years.
Creating a safe and happy work environment should be of paramount importance to all managers and business owners throughout Western Australia. The OH&S regulations define a reasonable framework, but a proper working OH&S system requires teamwork and training. A business should engage its employees in the OH&S development and maintenance process as discussed in "A critical step for a safe workplace" but there is no substitute for great training and employee's with certified OH&S experience being assigned to responsible positions within your OH&S system.
Build on the frame work outlined in the OH&S regulations. Use the OH&S regulations guidelines and templates, freely available from government sources Worksafe WA have online documents (available here) and develop your workplace OH&S system around them. These will provide your workplace with a bare bones OH&S system and supposedly the bare minimum required to achieve certification. However they lack detail and specifics required for your workplace and don’t constitute a comprehensive working OH&S system by themselves. A system that will truly keep all employees safe and build the reputation of your workplace.
Each business needs staff on hand who know OH&S , how to identify risk, formulate policies and document procedure that will protect people and the business. UT offers such training. See the article Find out about our upcoming courses here. Most importantly talk to me about your business needs we can tailor training to get your OH&S system working. I’ll even arrange an onsite introduction OH&S session for your business to get your started.
We suggest all business need to have a certified OH&S specialist on staff to make sure your business not only complies to the regulations but also implement OH&S best practice strategies we teach. Strategies that protect your workers and provide real substance for its OH&S policies so the business is protected as well. The worst may never happen but what if it does!
Denise Mercer has been the Senior Trainer and Manager for Unity Training Services since 2012. She holds Diploma's in work health and safety and management and is Certificate IV qualified across a wide range of occupations including warehousing, asset maintenance and mental health.
Prior to joining Unity Training Services, Denise was an experienced Prison Officer and Health and Safety Representative in the prison system then worked professionally as a health and safety trainer.