Occupational Health & Safety

Posted October 13, 2011, by Andrea Riddell

All Australian workplaces need to adhere to Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) standards to avoid workplace illness and injury.

Good OH&S not only improves safety in the workplace but also increases morale and productivity. OH&S standards are enforced by each state or territory. Employers and employees need to work together to maintain a safe and effective workplace.


Employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their employees. In order to provide a safe working environment, employers need to identify possible hazards and risks and adapt OH&S policies and procedures to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses.

An employer must guarantee that their business has (if applicable):

  • Safe premises
  • Safe machinery and materials
  • Safe systems of work
  • Information, instruction, training and supervision
  • A suitable working environment and facilities

This is achieved by understanding the Occupational Health and Safety Act and by:

  • Keeping up-to-date knowledge on health and safety matters
  • Understanding the operations undertaken by the business to foresee hazards and risks
  • Providing training and productive instruction for workers
  • Observing and monitoring safe practices during work operations



Workers also have a responsibility to work sensibly and follow correct procedures. Employees need to be aware of and understand OH&S policies and workplace instructions, especially when operating machinery. It is critical that workers have input into the monitoring and reporting of workplace safety.

Employees need to:

  • Take reasonable care and monitor their own health and safety
  • Take care that their actions do not negatively affect the health and safety of fellow employees
  • Comply with reasonable instruction in health and safety procedures
  • Alert their supervisor or OH&S representative about hazards or other safety issues
  • Abiding by these principles can greatly reduce the amount of sickness and injury in the workplace


OH&S practices

Some OH&S procedures that are common across all parts of Australia include:

  • Utilising all safety equipment provided when necessary
  • Following health and safety instructions given to you by supervisors or OH&S representatives
  • Using equipment, including machinery, properly
  • Participating in health and safety training and procedures
  • Being aware and understanding safety signs and symbols


Safety Hazards

There are a range of factors in the workplace that can potentially become a safety hazard to employees. These depend on the physical environment, nature of operations and employee compatibility. As either an employer or employee, you need to be aware of issues that may arise.

Psychosocial issues

Human interaction, behaviour and psychology can greatly affect one’s health and safety in the workplace. These would include things like bullying, fatigue, stress, violence, and alcohol and drugs.

Some workers may be more vulnerable than others to psychosocial stress, due to certain characteristics. These can include:

  • Having a non-English speaking background
  • Having different cultural or religious beliefs
  • Being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
  • Being aged between 16–25
  • Having a disability or long-term illness or injury
  • Working on a temporary basis

Employers and employees need to be aware that these characteristics can cause difficulties in communicating and can lead to victimisation, bullying, and an adverse overall effect on health and safety in the workplace.

As an employer you will need to be aware of any unusual or changed behaviour in your workers. It is important to try and understand any underlying problems that may have caused these psychosocial issues. For this to occur you need to have strong channels of communication.

As employees it is important to inform your supervisor or OH&S representative of any unusual or changed behaviour in your fellow employees. Also be sure to inform your employer of any problems or issues that you may be facing that might affect your work or jeopardise your safety.


Chemicals include materials and substances that can adversely affect the health of workers. Some chemicals can pose an immediate risk to workers as well as the environment and are labelled as dangerous goods. Chemicals can also cause harm through exposure. These are usually classified as hazardous and can cause long-term effects to your health. The storage and handling of chemicals needs to be strictly monitored to ensure the safety of workers.


Carcinogens are substances which may cause cancer. Carcinogens are listed as notifiable or prohibited and there are specific requirements concerning their use and regulation.

Manual handling and ergonomics

Manual handling includes any activity or task that may require physical exertion. These can include lifting, pushing, carrying or any other repetitive or awkward movements. Injuries resulting from manual handling are extremely common, but are preventable.


Constant exposure to loud or excessive noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Employers need to put in place control measures to ensure that worker safety is guaranteed when noise levels exceed a certain level.

Plant – machinery and equipment

Operating machinery can be extremely dangerous and can lead to injuries and even fatalities. Workers need to be thoroughly trained in how to operate and maintain plant. Any machinery and equipment needs to be kept in a safe and working condition. This is achieved through regular inspection and maintenance to keep up-to-date on the need for repairs and replacements.

Working environment

Some hazards can arise from the work environment. Issues may arise from smoking, confined spaces, sun exposure and temperature. It is up to the employer to identify and control hazards that could occur in the workplace.

Andrea Riddell

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