Workplace safety requires more than a band-aid

Friday 21 July, 2017 | By: Jennifer Gutwenger | Tags: Workplace safety

When in the thick of productivity, small business owners tend to get caught up in day-to-day core business and urgent affairs - it can take some grit to get the ball rolling on those other stickier, more time-consuming tasks. The tasks we put on the back burner and bank for another day. Confidence can get in the way too, hoping that unlikely events don’t occur and hedging bets that luck is always on side. 

 Managing a workplace in this way can be risky business. It’s no surprise that this type of mindset doesn’t stand well when things go wrong. Especially, when it has much to do with keeping people safe at work.  Let’s take first aid as an example.

 According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the Work-Related Injuries Survey, Australia, 2009–10 reported the average annual injury rates are 57.9 per 1000 workers. The top industries who were markedly higher than the overall average were accommodation/food services industry at 83 and manufacturing at 76 per 1000 workers.

 The implication of these numbers for businesses – big and small - is enormous. Lost time, reduced productivity, increased stress and anxiety are just a few. Of course, there are other much larger pitfalls too. Breaches of legislation or codes of practice quickly come to mind.

 In February 2016 Safe Work Australia released a Code of Practice on first aid in the workplace. This Code of Practice was approved under section 274 of the Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act). A significant piece of legislation that is relevant to any business with a duty of care.

As an employer, this Legislation makes it pretty clear that your duty of care about first aid goes beyond band-aids in the lunchroom or an incident log at reception.  

Here are the top three things employers must consider for first aid risk management and meeting compliance standards – how well does your business stand up against these?

1. First Aid Kits

All workers must have access to a first aid kit. Its contents should provide basic equipment for providing first aid for injuries like cuts and scratches, burns, broken bones and shock. Some workplaces are assessed as high risk, so it’s best to check-in with Safe Work Australia to have a full understanding of your requirements.

St John Ambulance Australia says, “Treatment in the first five minutes after a first aid incident can dramatically change the outcome. Workplaces should have the appropriate equipment and signage in place to allow for a quick response and ensure the safety of workers.”

2. First Aid Training

Duty of care includes training all employees in basic procedures and protocols to follow in the event of a first aid emergency. Training should include information on the location and composition of first aid kits, communication channels to use in an emergency, and the identity and location of accredited first aiders. Yes, that’s right, accredited first aiders – every business requires at least one.

The statistics say that less than one in three Australian employees (31%) currently feel confident to perform first aid in an emergency, reasons ranging from ‘a lack of training’ through to feeling ‘personally responsible’ if something went wrong.

 3. Awareness

This is key. Sure, we must work through the Code of Practice, order first aid equipment and head off to training providers like St John Ambulance, but the final step is always to communicate protocol to staff. Best practice implementation should be done through procedural documents, regular first aid drills and instigating mock emergencies.

 Don’t feel overwhelmed; there are many resources available to help employers implement best practice and meet compliance. Safe Work Australia is an excellent place to start looking for on-line resources governed by Australian legislation, as well as St John Ambulance Australia for documentation that’s useful when compiling procedures, purchasing compliance equipment and meeting legislative training requirements.

 It’s about tackling the hard stuff early – managing first aid related issues in retrospect, with no supporting policy or go-to guide, is complex, stressful and costly. Being proactive and having best practice in place from start-up onwards is most certainly the way to go. 

 Making these arrangements a priority might seem daunting, and quite rightly so. But it’s best to be wise and not run a risky business – the law counts on us to get it right from the get go.

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