Addressing a Duty of Safety in Your Small Business

There are a lot of rules to tell us what we can and can’t do at work to ensure, as far as practicable, that we’re kept from harm. The responsibility for safety is a shared one, but in reality it’s a duty that you as the employer — particularly if you control the workplace — are ultimately responsible to fulfill.

The key to fulfilling the duty is to implement a risk management strategy, a little bit of education, and a healthy dose of consultation with everyone that may be affected by your decisions.

Risk management follows these simple steps:

  • Identify hazards that may pose a risk to health and safety in your workplace. Hazards are not just physical hazards but also arise from work systems and more recently (think bullying) the way in which work colleagues behave towards each other.

  • Assess the likelihood of the risk to health and safety actually leading to personal injury or illness. For example, is it unlikely, probable or inevitable? Consider the consequences if the consequences of the risk were to eventuate. Would it be disastrous, major damage, moderate or even insignificant to a person’s health?

  • Evaluate the risk of the hazard by allocating a numerical or alpha value to the combined likelihood and consequences: The higher the value, the greater the risk.

  • Treat the risk according to its risk rating. For example, if the likelihood of injury or illness occurring from a workplace hazard is very likely and the consequences serious, then you would do whatever is necessary to eliminate the risk. On the other hand, if the likelihood of injury from a hazard were rare and the consequences inconsequential, then your response or treatment would be commensurate with the level of risk to personal health.

Here is a useful hierarchy of treatment measures that may, when followed, serve you well:

  • Primary level response is to eliminate the risk at its source.

  • Secondary level intervention controls exposure to the risk.

  • Tertiary interventions aim to treat the consequences of injury or illness where the primary and secondary interventions have not been successful.

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