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Health and safety issues have been identified as a key risk for councils in Aon’s annual risk report on local government. In fact, health and safety ranks third on a list of ten, having jumped up from position five in 2017. Moreover, a fifth of councils were found to be not auditing their workplace health and safety requirements.

The report presents these findings as an opportunity for councils to manage their risks better by investing in best practise strategies and processes that promise greater protection. Some of these strategies involve quite simple steps that can have a big impact on reducing the human risk. And it’s no surprise that investing in quality workplace health and safety training is one such step. In making workplace health and safety a core value of local government work practices, councils are enacting a strategy that will serve them well financially, increase their productivity and ability to attract and retain staff, and see their reputation in and relationship with their community improve.

If workplace health and safety training is seen as an add-on, or an expense, or a set of boxes to be ticked, it simply will not work. “Every manager, every employee, every contractor needs to view their working day through a WHS lens,” says the report. Work health and safety won’t function successfully if it is just demanded from on high – it must percolate through the entire organisation so that a culture of safety and wellbeing can flourish.

The AON report recognises that smaller councils may struggle with resourcing more than their larger counterparts but notes that every council, like every business, is bound by legislation that requires it to keep employees, contractors and other workers safe from risk as much as is reasonably practicable.

By putting work health and safety on the back burner, councils risk the following:

  • Increased workplace incidents. Aon records that trips and falls account for nearly 24% of claims. Moreover, an ageing workforce can add additional concerns for work health and safety in councils. For example, older employees engaged in physically demanding jobs may become more prone to injury and older employees may be less engaged with digital communication methods like email. Councils must consider how their safety updates are being communicated to the whole demographic of their workforce.
  • Increased insurance premiums. The report shows that councils that proactively manage risks and employ best-practice claims management are viewed more favourably by insurers.
  • Low staff morale: “The relentless need to do more with less is having an impact on local government employees. Staff feel pressured to perform and undervalued, which risks lowering employee engagement and motivation as staff feel simply overwhelmed.”
  • Reputational issues. Given that council workers often live in the community they serve, a lack of care around their safety and wellbeing will resonate locally, reducing the council’s ability to attract new talent and undermining the confidence of their constituents.
  • Low productivity and poor service delivery. Poor employee engagement, low morale, and a culture which is unsupportive of training and education can stifle enthusiasm and productivity, leading to absenteeism and poor-quality delivery of council services.

Cultivating a working environment in which workplace health and safety is placed front and centre is the most effective way to mitigate these risks. By investing in education and training, councils demonstrate to their workers that their wellbeing is always top of mind. The ripple effects of that investment are dramatic and impact not only on a council’s bottom line, but on their ability to provide services to the communities they are elected to serve. Aon’s report suggests the following steps to create councils which thrive on rather than battle with workplace health and safety:

  • Ongoing training and assessment for councillors and employees – workplace health and safety must be practised at every level of management so that the culture is modelled by those at the top, not just demanded employees;
  • A consultative, holistic approach of workplace health and safety whereby employees are asked about the behaviours they are seeing in the workplace and how they would respond to scenarios and risks
  • Institute “near miss” reporting schemes to help identify and avoid injuries or accidents before they happen (refer to AlertForce’s Strategic Incident Analysis training).

Councils can be shining examples of how a culture that values workplace health and safety can serve its employees, its community and its bottom line as a business. So give a us a call today to discuss you council’s training needs and knock workplace health and safety off that list of risks!

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