Workplace Health & Safety Notes for Board Members

An update for company directors on the harmonised WHS legislation.

Late last month a group of fledgling board members received a workplace health and safety (WHS) update from Juanita Lovatt as part of our new Director Download Series.

The attendees at this event received a 45-minute update on the [relatively] new harmonised workplace health and safety legislation. They also had the opportunity to ask Juanita questions, helping them to understand what this legislation means for them and their organisations.

Here are some of the main tips that Juanita shared with the group:

  • Volunteers within any organisation are protected the same as the employee/s of the organisation.
  • Whether you are a director, committee member, board of management member, etc., you are considered an ‘officer’ of the organisation and, as such, have due diligence duties for ensuring safety.
  • Ignorance is no excuse for breaching WHS legislation.
  • Penalties for breaches have increased in South Australia and can include imprisonment.
  • The fiduciary duties as part of the WHS legislation are proactive – not passive. Check out section 27 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for the specific duties of officers.
  • The focus is still on eliminating – or at the very least minimising – risks in the workplace.
  • Building design now has to have safety as a focus – for example: curved windows in a high rise don’t make for safe cleaning.

What you can do:

  • Take the effort to learn and understand WHS – particularly the elements that are relevant to your organisation.
  • Take the time to understand the nature of operations of the business – walk around the workplace.
  • Competently test the information (reports, feedback, etc.) that you are receiving at the board level, and check up on the follow-through of risk reduction activities (particularly those after an incident/accident).
  • Keep scanning the WHS environment to stay ahead of or up-to-date with changes to WHS legislation and practices.
  • Use the internet to source free resources to help you manage WHS within the business.
  • Develop a hazard incident reporting system that feeds information into a continuous improvement system.
  • When mitigating a risk, consider the likelihood and potential harm, together with cost, availability and what’s reasonable.
  • Talk about safety: have it as a standing agenda item on your board meeting agenda.
  • Deploy an internal audit system for legal compliance (the regularity of which will depend on the type of organisation / industry).
  • Develop checklists to manage staff/volunteer capabilities (including their relevant qualifications, renewal date, training undertaken, etc.).
  • Initiate a system to ensure the use of personal protective equipment where required – not just have it available. For example: not wearing life jackets has cost the lives of commercial fishermen. Unfortunately many vessels have life jackets sitting unused in cupboards on board, or, worse, underneath sleeping bunks.

One of the most important roles of a company director is ensuring a safe, comfortable, and happy workplace for employees. Ensuring you stay on top of workplace health and safety laws and practices is a mandatory task for the board.

More information on WHS can be found at SafeWork Australia or SafeWork SA for South Australian based organisations. Links to other state and territory regulators can be found on SafeWork Australia’s website. If you would like some practical, hands-on assistance with workplace health and safety, contact Juanita Lovatt at Lovatt and Associates (and if you mention Get on Board Australia, you can receive a complimentary 30-minute interview and a tailored compliance checklist to get you started).

image: flickr/Duncan Holmes


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October 26, 2015

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Get on Board delivers education and development courses that are open to individuals from all professional backgrounds and all types of industries (public, private, NFP, sporting organisations and clubs, etc.). Get on Board focuses on aspiring directors – those people looking to join a board in the near future – and on new directors – those who are currently in their first to fifth year of sitting on a board. Everything that we do is geared towards developing the corporate governance skills, and the business, strategic and financial acumen of new and aspiring company directors.

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