Getting work health and safety right in local government

Local government is a hugely diverse sector and covers a wide variety of roles. The work health and safety challenges that come with that scope and variety are considerable. But, with vigilance and a strong focus on high quality training, local government can be a leading example when it comes to robust work health and safety policies and practise.

Local government roles can include:

  • Community services
  • Aged care
  • Children’s services
  • Garbage collection and recycling
  • Road construction
  • Libraries
  • Maintenance of recreational areas e.g. sports ovals, parks, playgrounds
  • Public events
  • Administration

Some of the associated work health and safety risks include:

  • Dealing with hazardous waste
  • Working alone
  • Transporting people and equipment
  • Fatigue
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Working at heights
  • Manual handling
  • Road and vehicle safety
  • Working in confined spaces
  • Work-related stress
  • Workplace bullying
  • Public safety

This list is by no means comprehensive but gives some indication of the sheer quantity of work health and safety issues that a local government must be on top of at any given moment.

Staying on top of the legislation

Making sure that all work health and safety policies and procedures are compliant with the relevant legislation is essential to not only ensuring a safe environment for workers but for ensuring that local government departments are not unnecessarily involved in expensive and time-consuming legal action. Yes, workers compensation claims are a fact of working life, but with a strong framework in place and a commitment to work health and safety as a core value, such claims can be reduced or at least handled more efficiently.

Having a dedicated work health and safety advisor is recommended – i.e. someone who is completely across the legislation and any changes that come up and can communicate those changes so that policies and procedures reflect them.

Similarly, as is the case with any business, knowing your relevant industry bodies and maintaining membership with them can be an effective way to be kept in the loop about amendments to legislation and any other relevant updates.

Experience has shown us a few key areas upon which local government should focus:

Duty of care & duty to consult

If you are a person or business conducting an undertaking (PCBU) then you are responsible for the health and safety of those in your workplace, including visitors. That is your duty of care as laid out by the legislation. Local government must therefore be clear about:

  • When and where they are acting as a PCBU e.g. this could include someone occupying accommodation managed by a local council for the purposes of a work project
  • Who exactly is covered by the term “workers” – e.g. volunteers and visitors along with regular staff
  • What the duty of care entails e.g. the provision and maintenance of safe work systems, the provision of training and supervision, the monitoring of health of the workers

A PCBU also has a duty to consult which means there must be:

  • Consultation, cooperation and coordination between duty holders
  • Consultation with workers upon issues that are likely to affect them

There are strict rules about how and when consultation must occur and associated fines for failure to do so of up to $100,000.

We have seen time and time again in our work that communication is one of the cornerstones of an effective work health and safety framework and, like any business, local government must be aware of these obligations and act accordingly. communication is one of the cornerstones of an effective work health and safety framework.

Training

Part of the duty of care is, according the Act:

the provision of any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.

The provision of quality training to local government workers is a responsibility that can tend to be overlooked but that local government must be vigilant in meeting. Given the pace at which work environments and tasks can change, it is crucial that local government workers are given up-to-date high-quality training in order to be able to carry out their jobs effectively and safely. Asbestos management continues to be an area in which local government finds itself involved and must address with exceptional care. Failure to meet its legal obligations when it comes to handling and disposing of asbestos can have serious consequences which not only impacts the integrity of health and safety systems, but can see managers liable for those failures.

Contact AlertForce today and make sure your local government department is ahead of the game instead of playing catch up when it comes to work health and safety.

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