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Most Australian businesses not meeting WHS requirements

New research has suggested that a majority of Australian businesses are not meeting their basic Workplace Health and Safety responsibilities, particularly when it comes to the health and wellbeing of their staff.

In a survey of more than 1,000 Australians, undertaken by Workplace Health and Safety audit and training organisation SAI Global, 52 per cent of employees reported that their employer does not send employees home when they present with an illness that may impact on other workers.

This is despite the fact that Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) legislation states that it is a requirement for an employer to ensure the health of all of their workforce, and that all work is conducted without risk to the health and safety of others.

Additionally, the survey found that 42 per cent of respondents also admitted that their workplace requires regular work overload and/or requires employees to rush tasks, resulting in elevated levels of stress in the workplace.

Further, more than a third (35 per cent) of employees said their workplace lacks necessary training for their roles, or that they are given unrealistic KPIs from management, both of which also lead to significantly more stress.

Comparing the states, companies in Western Australia are reportedly the least likely to send home employees who present as sick, with 59 per cent of WA survey respondents stating as such, compared with 51 per cent of Queensland respondents, and 50 per cent in NSW.

Employees in Western Australia, Victoria and South Australia have reported receiving the most unrealistic KPIs from management, with 37 per cent of respondents in these states stating it was a cause of significant stress, compared with 27 per cent of ACT residents reporting the same.

Worryingly, 11 per cent of respondents said their workplace had no WHS policies in place, while the same percentage of workers said the company had a WHS policy but it was not enforced by management.

Rod Beath, workplace safety spokesperson at SAI Global, said employers have a primary duty of care when it comes to the health and safety of their workers, including the responsibilities outlined in WHS legislation.

“However, our research shows that many employers are not meeting these basic responsibilities,” Mr Beath said.

Mr Beath also said companies should be striving to meet WHS legislative requirements, including the care of employee mental health and wellbeing.

In light of the survey’s results, SAI Global provided six key tips for ways in which employers can look after the health and wellbeing of their workers:

  1. Promote an open and trusting management style and environment: Regular catch-ups between managers and staff, support and training programs and return-to-work programs can go a long way in ensuring employees feel that their health and wellbeing is a workplace priority. Training managers to consider the mental wellbeing of staff also creates an environment where they feel safer and more comfortable.
  2. Encourage work/life balance: Work/life balance is an important aspect of a healthy work environment, and employers should look to offer flexible start and finish times so employees can fit in important lifestyle needs. This will give them a greater sense of agency over when they work, what they do and how they can work in relation to others. It will also help to prevent burnout – which is also in the employer’s best interests.
  3. Create clear job roles and responsibilities: Change – especially when it threatens stable or comfortable routines – can be unsettling. If workers express anxiety about change, employers should remain transparent and honest about the process. It’s vital they provide clarity in a job description, too. Setting clear roles and responsibilities, especially formal ones, helps employees know what is expected of them and more closely aligns their roles with a company’s goals.
  4. Promote open communication and strong social networks: Employees thrive on friendships and good social interaction, so it is important to create a workplace where people enjoy coming to work. Having open communication, opportunities for team connectedness and social events and celebrating wins and achievements are the types of workplace ingredients that go into developing a mentally healthy workplace culture.
  5. Reward good work: Fulfilling careers are built on good experiences, and so employers should ensure they reward their workers on their individual efforts. This will improve employee satisfaction, making them feel supported and empowered in their roles. In turn, it will increase their productivity at work – especially if they are aware of how their efforts create an impact on the organisation.
  6. Engage workers in the formulation of wellness programs: It is extremely important that workers participate not just in the execution of a wellness program, but in its design. By involving them in the engagement process early, they will soon “walk the talk”. Employers should also think about the particular needs of their workplace demographic. SAI Global has found that some of the best wellness programs have not started as a top-led initiative, but as a bottom-up approach. This is usually with an employee who has a strong personal passion and is keen to grow this into a company-wide initiative.

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