Common workplace practices that are risking employee safety

Despite businesses in Australia having a legal requirement to comply with their State’s Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws, more than 100,000 serious workplace injuries still occur every year.

These range from mental stress, to trips and falls, to collisions with objects. A leading auditing and training organisation in occupational health and safety is alerting organisations to commonly overlooked workplace practices that are risking the health and safety of their employees.

SAI Global is a global risk management provider that has audited and trained thousands of organisations seeking to meet the ISO 45001 international standard for workplace health and safety, in addition to the Workplace Health and Safety acts and regulations in their own State. Organisations that display the internationally recognised SAI Global Five Ticks StandardsMark™ for ISO 45001 have been certified to meet the standard and demonstrate a real commitment to creating a safe and healthy workplace.

SAI Global reveals the 7 workplace hazards commonly overlooked by employers:

1. Heavy workloads and high stress levels

Are employees stressed, working long hours or skipping breaks as they struggle to meet the demands of their jobs? Work-related stress is the second most common compensated illness or injury in Australia. It can lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, psychological symptoms such as anxiety, sleep loss and depression, or behavioural symptoms such as mood swings. These can contribute to long-term health complications such as sleep loss and even diabetes. The ISO 45001 Standard requires top management to include all workers in their WHS decision making and implement ways to gather employee feedback.

2. Concealed bullying and harassment

We tend to think of managers as the main perpetrators of workplace bullying and harassment. But SAI Global auditors have identified the behaviour among junior-to-mid-level employees, contractors and even external suppliers. Bullying and harassment includes hurtful remarks, playing mind games, making one feeling undervalued, assigning pointless tasks that have nothing to do with a person’s job, giving impossible KPIs or jobs, changing work schedules to make it difficult for the employee, or being required to do humiliating things to be accepted in a team. Being at the receiving end of bullying and harassment can cause emotional trauma and lead to mental health injuries.

3. Basic clutter

Do staff need to meander around stacked boxes, plants, artworks, bags on floors or courier deliveries placed in access areas? These present trip or collision risks for anyone on the workplace, especially when they are distracted, carrying items or turning corners. Conduct risk assessments and implement a program to sort through workplace items, ensure every item has a predetermined storage location when not used, have the workplace cleaned daily, on-board all employees on the new set of standards and ensure the new habits are adopted

4. Blocking fire safety equipment

Are bookshelves or tall furniture pieces blocking fire exits, sprinkler heads, fire hoses or fire hydrants? These can obstruct the use or efficiency of fire safety equipment in the case of an emergency. Management should ensure fire safety equipment has 1-metre-clear zones marked by signage, workplaces have regular safety inspections, and there is preventative maintenance in place for essential services.

5. Non-adjustable desks, chairs and monitors

Think height adjustable desks are a bit of a fad? Not so. Desks, chairs and monitors that can’t be adapted to employee needs can lead to injuries. Research led by the University of Sydney found that lower back pain accounts for a third of all work-related disability.While employers might be reluctant to incur the expense of ergonomic equipment, the cost of compensation claims as a can far outweigh the investment.

6. Extreme workplace temperatures

Are desks positioned beneath air-conditioning vents, or in draughts? Or is direct sunlight causing ‘hot spots’ in the office in summer? Employee complaints related to temperature are common. Ideally, interior workplaces should be a comfortable even temperature of 22 degrees in summer and 24 degrees in winter. Heat and cold stress can impact our health. An employee falling ill because they were forced to work in uncomfortable conditions can lead to days off work, and even a workers compensation claim.

7. An employer’s lack of commitment to safety

If you can’t remember seeing a company WHS policy, you have a major employee safety issue. You still have an issue if your company does have a WHS program, but not every person working under the organisation – including contractors, volunteers and interns – is included and consulted into it. SAI Global auditors have seen organisations with good programs in place, but which have not been taken on board by management. When staff are not educated about potential workplace hazards, risks and good safety practices, injuries and illnesses are more likely to occur. The relevant manager should take all staff through the company’s WHS policy and take practical steps to demonstrate that their safety is their priority. A safe culture is directly linked to productive workplaces. If a supervisor or manager does something unsafe, it’s likely that other workers will follow suit.

Employers are required by law to provide a safe, risk-free work environment for all employees. This will include assessing and monitoring the workplace for risks, and listening to and consulting all workers. For organisations serious about mitigating workplace risks, the ISO 45001 Standard is undoubtedly the best option to benchmark an organisation’s occupational health and safety performances against their local and overseas competitors.

To book an Occupational Health and Safety audit by SAI Global, visit:

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