Good work is healthy and safe work, where the workplace health and safety hazards and risks are eliminated or minimised “so far as is reasonably practicable”, Safe Work Australia’s (SWA’s) new handbook Principles of Good Work Design (PGWD) argues.

Good work is also where the work design optimises human performance, job satisfaction and productivity.

So how do you ensure ‘good’ work design and how do you assess its value?

Before any new project, PGWD says job designers MUST consider:

The work:
• how work is performed, including the physical, mental and emotional demands of the tasks and activities;
• the task duration, frequency, and complexity; and
• the context and systems of work.

The physical working environment:
• the plant, equipment, materials and substances used; and
• the vehicles, buildings, structures that are workplaces.

The workers:
• physical, emotional and mental capacities and needs.

Failure to do so can result in “poor risk management and lost opportunities to innovate and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of work”, PGWD warns.

Key principles
So what are the vital ingredients you NEED to employ to ensure ‘good’ work design? The handbook lists 10 key reasons/principles, listed under three subheadings: why, what and how.

The Why principles

The Why section is split into three principles, as follows:

1: Good work design gives the highest level of protection ‘so far as is reasonably practicable’
PGWD argues eliminating or minimising hazards at the source before risks are introduced in the workplace is a very effective way of providing the highest level of protection. Doing so reduces the risk of injuries, claims and expense. Where that is not reasonably practicable, then the design process should minimise hazards and risks through the selection and use of appropriate control measures.

2. Good work design enhances health and wellbeing
Good work design optimises worker function and improves participation enabling workers to have more productive working lives. Effective design aims to prevent harm, but it can also positively enhance the health and wellbeing of workers for example, satisfying work and positive social interactions can help improve people’s physical and mental health. As a general guide, the healthiest workers have been found to be three times more productive than the least healthy (see PDF file). It therefore makes good business sense for work design to support people’s health and wellbeing.

3: Good work design enhances business success and productivity
Good work design prevents deaths, injuries and illnesses and their associated costs, improves worker motivation and engagement and in the long-term improves business productivity. Well-designed work fosters innovation, quality and efficiencies through effective and continuous improvement. Well-designed work helps manage risks to business sustainability and profitability by making work processes more efficient and effective and by improving product and service quality. Designing-out problems before they arise is generally cheaper than making changes after the resulting event, for example by avoiding expensive retrofitting of workplace controls.

The WHAT principles

4: Good work design addresses physical, biomechanical, cognitive and psychosocial characteristics of work, together with the needs and capabilities of the people involved
Good work design addresses the different hazards associated with work eg, chemical, biological and plant hazards, hazardous manual tasks and aspects of work that can impact on mental health. Work characteristics should be systematically considered when work is designed, redesigned or the hazards and risks are assessed. These work characteristics should be considered in combination and one characteristic should not be considered in isolation. Good work design creates jobs and tasks that accommodate the abilities and vulnerabilities of workers so far as reasonably practicable. Hazards and risks associated with tasks are identified and controlled during good work design processes and they should be considered in combination with all hazards and risks in the workplace.

5: Good work design considers the business needs, context and work environment.
Good work design is ‘fit for purpose’ and should reflect the needs of the organisation including owners, managers, workers and clients. Every workplace is different so approaches need to be context specific. What is good for one situation cannot be assumed to be good for another, so off-the-shelf solutions may not always suit every situation. The work environment is broad and includes: the physical structures, plant and technology, work layout, organisational design and culture, human resource systems, work health and safety processes and information/control systems. The work environment includes the physical structures, plant, and technology. Planning for relocations, refurbishments or when introducing new engineering systems are ideal opportunities for businesses to improve their work designs and avoid foreseeable risks. However, all businesses must eliminate or minimise their work health and safety risks so far as reasonably practicable.

6: Good work design is applied along the supply chain and across the operational lifecycle.
Good work design should be applied along the supply chain in the design, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal of goods and the supply of services. Work design is relevant at all stages of the operational life cycle, from start-up, routine operations, maintenance, downsizing and cessation of business operations. New initiatives, technologies and change in organisations have implications for work design and should be considered. Businesses in the supply chain can have significant influence over their supply chain partners’ work health and safety through the way they design the work. Health and safety risks can be created at any point along the supply chain, for example, loading and unloading causing time pressure for the transport business. These can be prevented if businesses work with their supply chain partners to understand how contractual arrangements affect health and safety.

The HOW principles

7: Engage decision makers and leaders
Work design or redesign is most effective when there is a high level of visible commitment, practical support and engagement by decision makers. Demonstrating the long-term benefits of investing in good work design helps engage decision makers and leaders. Practical support for good work design includes allocation of appropriate time and resources to undertake effective work design or redesign processes.Leaders can support good work design by ensuring the principles are appropriately included or applied. Good work design, especially for complex issues will require adequate time and resources to consider and appropriately manage organisational and/or technological change. Like all business change, research shows leader commitment to upfront planning helps ensure better outcomes.

8: Actively involve the people who do the work, including those in the supply chain and networks
Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must consult with their workers and others likely to be affected by work in accordance with the work health and safety laws. Supply chain stakeholders should be consulted as they have local expertise about the work and can help improve work design for upstream and downstream participants. Consultation should promote the sharing of relevant information and provide opportunities for workers to express their views, raise issues and contribute to decision making where possible. Effective consultation and co-operation of all involved with open lines of communication, will ultimately give the best outcomes. Consulting with those who do the work not only makes good sense, it is required under the WHS laws. Workers have knowledge about their own job and often have suggestions on how to solve a specific problem. Discussing design options with them will help promote their ownership of the changes. See Code of practice on consultation.

9: Identify hazards, assess and control risks, and seek continuous improvement
A systematic risk management approach should be applied in every workplace. Designing good work is part of the business processes and not a one-off event. Sustainability in the long-term requires that designs or redesigns are continually monitored and adjusted to adapt to changes in the workplace so as to ensure feedback is provided and that new information is used to improve design. Good work design should systematically apply the risk management approach to the workplace hazards and risks. Typically good work design will involve ongoing discussions with all stakeholders to keep refining the design options. Each stage in the good work design process should have decision points for review of options and to consult further if these are not acceptable. This allows for flexibility to quickly respond to unanticipated and adverse outcomes.

10: Learn from experts, evidence, and experience
Continuous improvement in work design and hence work health and safety requires ongoing collaboration between the various experts involved in the work design process. Various people with specific skills and expertise may need to be consulted in the design stage to fill any knowledge gaps. It is important to recognise the strengths and limitations of a single expert’s knowledge. Near misses, injuries and illnesses are important sources of information about poor design. Most work design processes will require collaboration and cooperation between internal and sometimes external experts. Internal advice can be sought from workers, line managers, technical support and maintenance staff, engineers, ICT systems designers, work health and safety advisors and human resource personnel. Depending on the design issue, external experts may be required such as architects, engineers, ergonomists, occupational hygienists and psychologists.

PGWD says the 10 principles are deliberately “high level “and broadly applicable across the range of Australian businesses and workplaces. Applied appropriately, they can help support better WHS outcomes and business productivity.

AlertForce offers a number of WHS compliance courses for employers. For details go to http://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/

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