Australia's ninth annual Safe Work Awards were held in Canberra on April 28, celebrating the year's achievements in positive work health and safety (WHS) practices. A total of 37 finalists competed in this year's awards, representing a range of different industries from civil engineering to livestock transport.

Minister for Employment Eric Abetz said he was "delighted" to see the WHS safety efforts of individuals and organisations all around Australia. 

"The leadership and innovation of people and organisations like those celebrated at the Awards not only helps to reduce the number of workplace deaths and injuries, but also helps to create a positive workplace culture," Senator Abetz said in a statement released April 29.

"Congratulations to this year's winners and finalists – their outstanding efforts are helping Australia get a step closer to achieving our vision of healthy, safe and productive working lives."

The official ceremony this year was held at Old Parliament House in Canberra and attended by the winners of the 2013 state and Comcare awards.

Tasmanian company VEC Civil Engineering Pty Ltd received the award for Best Workplace Health and Safety Management System. This recognises a continuous commitment to improving WHS by using an integrated systems approach, which the company achieved through making safety a business driver. They also used innovative ideas to encourage their staff to participate in workplace safety.

The award for Best Solution to an Identified Workplace Health and Safety Issue went to Frasers Livestock Transport in Queensland for their special Cross-loading Module. The company researched, designed and built the module themselves to eliminate the risks in their category of work, and the award recognises the significant improvements they have made to safety and productivity.

Best Workplace Health and Safety Practice/s in a Small Business went to Zetco Valves Pty Ltd in New South Wales. This company was commended for its initiative in implementing technology solutions that many larger companies have yet to successfully put in place. Along with decreasing the risks of their daily manual handling tasks, these solutions aided an increase in productivity throughout the business.

There were two joint winners for Best Individual Contribution to Workplace Health and Safety (by an employee) in 2014. Jedda McGlinchey of Ambulance Victoria and Rodney Cook of the Northcoast Institute of TAFE were both recognised by the Safe Work Australia for their efforts to improve WHS for coworkers, staff and students. In particular, Ms McGlinchey was instrumental in getting her branch removed from an unsafe building and a new workplace built.

Last but not least, Queensland's Jennifer Bell (from the RSPCA Queensland) won Best Individual Contribution to Workplace Health and Safety by a WHS manager. She was recognised for her efforts to move the organisation's WHS strategy away from a reactive approach to a proactive risk-based system.

Safe Work Australia also highly commended Phyllip Bix from the Department of Justice in this category. As the Health and Safety Officer for Grampians Regional Prison, Mr Bix worked with a committee to create a thorough health and wellbeing program for both new and existing employees. 

Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie has added his own congratulations to the two Queensland winners at the Safe Work Awards, saying he hopes the recognition will prove to be an inspiration for other organisations. 

"Tragically, around 17 Queenslanders die each year as a result of traumatic workplace incidents, and more than 5,000 suffer a permanent injury," Mr Bleijie said in a statement.

"This is why it's important the Safe Work Awards showcase individuals and businesses who think outside the square to make their workplace as safe as possible."

Improving health and safety in your own organisation

The Safe Work Awards are a great opportunity for every Australian business to demonstrate how they have focused on heath and safety in the workplace. However, achieving real impact in this area means focusing on your WHS policy consistently throughout each year.

Any person conducting a business or undertaking is legally responsible for ensuring that all the necessary steps have been taken to either eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety in the workplace. 

There are four steps towards health and safety management that every business can take. First, you need to identify the hazards involved in the workplace and how these might endanger your employees. 

After you have found the hazards, it's time to assess the risks they present. Consider how serious the consequences may be and how likely it is for these incidents to happen. The next step is to control the risks by implementing the most effective measures you can.

Lastly, reviewing your control strategies is important to ensure they are still keeping pace with the needs of your workforce. WHS policies should also be reviewed in light of any changes to legislation in your state or territory. 

When it comes to developing an appropriate WHS system in your company, it helps to seek the assistance of experts. They can advise you on all aspects of the process and offer specialised training to your employees, so they have a better understanding of how to keep themselves safe in the workplace.

For more information on improving health and safety outcomes in your own company, talk to the AlertForce team today. 

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