|Dr Shirley Musich, University of Michigan and Jackie Zelinsky, Australian Health Management Group|
Occupational Health and Safety is of major importance to all Australian employers. Under our system of government, the States and Territories have responsibility for making laws about workplace health and safety and for enforcing those laws. Each State and Territory has a principal OHS Act which sets out requirements for ensuring that workplaces are safe and healthy. This Duty of Care requires everything ‘reasonably practicable’ to be done to protect the health and safety of others at the workplace. For example, information and instruction on workplace hazards and supervision of employees in safe work.
The Work Cover Authority of each state ensures that employers meet legislative requirements and conduct random audits, particularly focussing on industries where employees are more likely to be at risk for injuries. Those employers found in breach of legislative requirements receive substantial fines. Work Cove premiums, paid by the employer, are linked to employee claims and affect bottom line returns. Years of implementation have shown employers that a safe work environment and zero lost time due to injuries contribute to a bottom line return. In fact it is clear that Safety is Free.
To date there has been less interest in the health of employees in Australia. After all, health is the domain of the individual and in the past there has been little documentation to support a bottom line return for employers.
The ‘health’ in Occupational Health and Safety will become increasingly important as organisations move from an injury management approach focussing on manual handling and environmental risks to a ‘whole person’ approach, which recognises that the health of an employee, rather than just their injury, is fundamental to their ability to do their job safely.