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Workplace Health and SafetyNovember 23, 2017
As the Christmas period sneaks up on businesses across Australia, there is increasing caution from workplace safety regulators in multiple states for employers to ensure safety right up until the festive season. Deadline pressures, parties and hot weather are some of the danger factors to manage to avoid a serious incident.
With a particular focus on the construction industry, some employers may be inclined to rush through current jobs but the word of warning is to not cut corners for the sake of finishing a job.
This is a time of heightened risk in construction as the sector is desperate to enter the extended break period with no hangover of jobs from the previous year, which is exactly when safety practices suffer. In fact, according to Worksafe Victoria, over the past decade 25% of all workplace fatalities occurred in November and December. To paint the horrific image in Victoria even further, the rush to finish jobs and cut corners has meant over the past decade 50 workers have not made it home for Christmas.
Despite the usual strong focus on safety taken by employers in construction, there are some things employers can do to make sure every worker goes home this Christmas.
Heat stress can lead to serious illness and death, employers need to know the symptoms and first aid responses. It can also cause fatigue and lead to impaired concentration, and poor judgement which increases the chance of harm occurring. As the deadlines approach and employers push to get jobs done, employees can feel the pinch and can be more fatigued.
Try to program work outside of the worst heat of the day, ensure there is readily available cold water and meal breaks, rotate jobs and provide shade and cool places to rest where possible. It is important there is an adequate break between work shifts for sleep and recovery including travel times to and from home. Workers that come off a weekend break must reacclimatise to the heat and young workers may be inexperienced with these conditions and more at risk.
We all enjoy the season to be jolly, parties and gathering abound. Be vigilant for workers that may be affected by drugs or alcohol though. I would strongly recommend you exercise your duty of care to remove any worker from the worksite if they are unfit for work.
Such a simple, yet underutilised, step is the use of toolbox talks or stand-ups. These are often informal talks with workers to remind them of some of the key safety considerations around the workplace. There is of course an ongoing reminder to always adhere to safe practices, but given the heightened risk this time of year employers and supervisors should be taking the time to deliver as many toolbox talks as possible and remind staff safety is their responsibility as well.
Being realistic in what can be achieved by Christmas, and managing the workload to ensure employees remain at their best is the most effective measure employers can take. Simple steps such as offering water, accommodating staff with fair rest breaks, and ultimately ensuring they are across the workplace safety challenges before starting a job remains best practice.
This is a risky time of year for employers in this industry, compounded by regulators paying attention and more fines on offer, meaning employers would be foolish to take safety for granted. If everyone does the right thing, everyone makes it home for Christmas.