Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated with more accurate information.  

Anyone who runs a business knows how important workplace safety is. Nobody wants someone to get hurt on the job, right?

Keeping employees safe is paramount to creating a healthy workplace environment that they will enjoy working in.

It also makes sense to ensure that your safe and healthy workplace is up to par with regards to local regulations and standards.

One of the institutions that create such rules and regulations is Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), often referred to as Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). They’re responsible for the assessment and migration of risks that may impact the health, safety or welfare of those in your workplace.

Every business owner needs to comply with these legal requirements to ensure that their workplace is safe for everyone – from employees to customers, visitors, contractors, volunteers and even suppliers.

Aside from complying with legal requirements, workplace safety is also critical for the long-term success of any business.

A safe workplace helps:

  • retain staff
  • maximise productivity
  • minimise employee injury and illnesses
  • minimise sick leaves and absenteeism
  • reduce the costs of injury and workers’ compensation
  • meet legal responsibilities and employee obligations

There’s always something you can do to make sure that all your employees go home looking and feeling as great as when they started the day.

Here are a few tips on workplace safety you might also want to share with your team.

1. Keep every corner clean, organised, and clutter-free

Slipping and tripping are usually caused by scattered objects or spills on the floor. Make sure that your workplace is always clean and fresh. Keep aisles clean, organised, and clutter-free to ensure that nothing is in the way that could hurt those who are working.

This is just one, direct way, that clutter influences your workplace negatively. However, there is another, more indirect way.

Stress reduces the cognitive abilities in people. This means stressed employees will be clumsier, more prone to mistakes, accidents and decreased productivity. If you cannot declutter your workplace, at least make sure you have a well-stocked First Aid Kit ready.

2. Use mats on slippery floors

Alsco’s line of wet area rubber mats are a perfect passive move towards employee safety. They’re industrial grade and capable of absorbing up to 80% of water and dirt. Placed strategically around the office, they can save your employees from nasty slips and falls.

Again, simply preventing a trip and slip is the most obvious and direct way of ensuring safety. There are other types of floor mats that can also make your workplace safer.

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By placing dust control mats at your workplace entrances, you will reduce the number of germs that are being brought inside. Which will in turn reduce the number of infections, flu and other germ induced illnesses.

Infections and germ related illnesses are not the only causes of sick days taken by your employees. Those that spend many hours standing are in great danger of having back issues and/or painful joints. Anti-fatigue mats ease the burden prolonged standing has on people’s back and joints.

3. Store combustible materials properly

When not stored properly, these combustible materials are serious fire hazards. They can put everyone’s safety at risk. Make sure these materials are stored in areas with proper ventilation.

Again, any spills made while working with these sorts of materials should be properly cleaned right away.

That is only the beginning. Every workplace that handles flammable and combustible materials needs to do so in accordance with Workplace Health and Safety rules and regulations, depending on the state in which the business resides.

First of all, all materials need to be properly labelled, based on GHS – the globally harmonised system for the classification and labelling of chemicals. These chemicals need to be labelled in accordance with ADG7.4 – The Australian Dangerous Goods Code Edition 7.4.

GHS defines a flammable liquid as a liquid having a flash point of no more than 93°C. The chemicals are further classified according to their flash points.

The person who runs the business is responsible for the following:

  • Creating and conducting all emergency planning
  • Ensuring everyone on site has personal protective equipment
  • Dealing with risks from flammable solvent vapours, including the places where it exceeds 5% of the lower explosive limit
  • Managing fire and explosion risks
  • Keeping the amount of flammable and combustible substances at the lowest practicable quantity
  • Providing a manifest and site plan if there is too much of one substance on site
  • Ensuring storage areas are properly labelled and signs are visible
  • Containing and managing leaks and spills
  • Making sure containers, pipework and attachments are damage-free
  • Providing appropriate fire protection systems
  • Managing all risks associated with storage and handling systems and equipment

4. Ensure proper training when handling equipment or machinery

Any employee tasked to handle tools, equipment, or machines should go through proper training first. Anyone who isn’t trained should never be assigned to handle heavy machinery and should stay away from it.

Training is not enough for high risk work involving heavy equipment and machinery. Your workers need to have appropriate licences to work in certain conditions and handle certain machinery and/or equipment. Once acquired, this licence needs to be renewed when stated.

The licence is categorised and you need to make sure your employees are eligible for the category your business needs. A Licence to Perform High Risk Work is for handling different machinery and equipment such as:

— Cranes
— Reach stackers
— Elevating platforms
— Hoists
— Boilers
— Scaffolds

Needless to say, whenever you have heavy machinery and dangerous goods in your workplace, you need to have proper First Aid Kits and trained personnel who can administer it properly.

5. Provide clothes appropriate for tasks

Employees who will be using power tools should wear proper workwear when operating machinery. Have them wear the right shoes and protective equipment for the task. Only use gloves that fit right and that are appropriate for the task.

Different industries require different uniforms and protective gear.

For example, medical personnel need uniforms that will prevent them from being contaminated with bacteria while enabling them to move comfortably.

Industrial workwear needs to provide UV protection, protection from fire and other hazards. Of course, it all depends on the industry. Naturally, you will opt for sturdier fabrics if you need to equip workers in the automotive industry. On the other hand, those that work with open fire and flames need fire retardant fabrics.

Food processing garments don’t have to be that special, but they need to be made from antibacterial fabrics to prevent bacteria contamination.

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6. Clearly label designated hazardous zones

Areas, where dangerous equipment is stored should be clearly labelled and the walkways should be highlighted with the necessary signage.

It also helps to mark the hazardous zones with tape or black and white stripes painted on the floor. This keeps employees aware of dangerous surroundings and helps them avoid accidents that may cause serious injuries.

It’s important to make sure the signs are properly made and positioned. You need to consult Australian Standards AS 1319:1994 for this. This Standard lists the requirements for the design and use of safety signs in the workplace. They are classified as follows:

  1. Regulatory signs warn about actions and measurements required by law. They are subdivided as follows:
    a. Prohibition signs
    b. Mandatory signs
    c. Limitation or restriction signs
  2. Hazard signs that warn about dangers and hazards. They are subdivided as follows:
    a. Danger signs – warning of a particular hazard that can be life-threatening.
    b. Warning signs – warning of a hazard that is not likely to be life-threatening.
  3. Emergency information signs include directions to emergency-related facilities such as exits, safety equipment or first aid facilities, including fire signs.

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7. Provide first aid training

Providing your employees with first aid stations goes a long way towards safety and is a practical way to deal with emergencies. These wall-mounted stations must be fully stocked with a first aid kit that has all the meds and supplies needed to handle the most commonly encountered situations in the office.

The first step toward creating a safer workplace is to undertake a professional workplace risk assessment. This will identify all the potential risks that lurk in your workplace. Once that is done, you can go on and take all the necessary precautions.

Some of them include simply putting appropriate signs throughout your workplace. Others involve a closer look at your First Aid efforts

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There are several things to take into consideration when you want to ensure a safe workplace in terms of First Aid. Here’s a detailed explanation of your obligations in terms of First Aid by Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations and Model Code of Practice: First aid in the workplace.

General recommendations include the followings:

  • You need to give your employees access to First Aid Kits and trained First Aid personnel.
  • First Aid Kits need to be positioned in areas where injuries are most likely to happen.
  • Your workplace vehicles need to be equipped with special Motorist Kit.

First Aid personnel are your employees who are trained to administer first aid in case of emergency. The number of First Aid personnel required depends on many factors, including risk levels in your workplace and the distance to the nearest medical facility.

The risk levels in your workplace is directly correlates to the number of people that are there throughout the day, including both employees and the visitors. Larger workplaces carry higher risks. Certain industries carry higher risks (e.g. an IT company is at lower risk than an automotive company).

As a rule of thumb, you need one First Aid Provider for every 50 people in a low-risk company and one for every 25 people in a high-risk company.

8. Implement emergency procedures

Unfortunately, emergencies do not announce themselves. In Australia, you can expect floods, fires and even earthquakes. You need to be prepared if you want to ensure the safety of your business, employees and your visitors.

To be successful you need to have some procedures should an emergency arise:

9. Have an ergonomic workplace

Consider putting ergonomically designed furniture and equipment in your workplace. It’s also best to rearrange the work area and make sure that everything is within easy reach to prevent things from falling when reaching for things.

When it comes to offices, make sure that everybody has a workstation that suits them. This includes a good computer, excellent desk and chair and enough light to work well.

On the other hand, a barista who stands all day will need a good anti-fatigue mat to help them deal with a sore back and joints. They will also need a bar which is at an appropriate height and well-functioning appliances.

In other words, make sure that anything that can be adjusted so that it prevents unnecessary strains and unfortunate body positions for employees.

10. Use mechanical aids for lifting and transportation

There are two ways you can lift something: on your own or by using some sort of aid. For tasks that involve a lot of heavy lifting, provide mechanical aids such as a wheelbarrow, conveyor belt, crane or forklift. Otherwise, you are risking your employees’ health and you will see a rise in the number of injuries.

Think about how much heavy lifting there is in your workplace. Is it just an occasional occurrence? Do you own a warehouse?

Even if you work out of an office that only involves some box carrying here and there, it is still important to protect your workers. Teach them how to lift safely and avoid back injuries.

However, if there is a warehouse involved or a large storage room, you need to rent or invest in transportation and lifting devices. Make sure they are used safely and the best way to do it is to hire trained people to handle them or to provide training for those that are responsible for handling heavy objects.

11. Ensure new employees understand risks in the workplace

The first thing you need to do, as mentioned earlier, is to understand the associated risks in your workplace. This is done by conducting a full workplace risk assessment. Once you have all this information, you need to convey this information to your new employees. They need to know:

  • Possible general risks and courses of action in case of emergency
  • Risks specific to their own position in the company

General workplace risks are to some degree the same in for companies in the same industry. For example, everybody must have a way to deal with fire hazards. Everybody needs to know where the First Aid cabinets are.

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Certain jobs come with certain risks. For example, baristas are more likely to burn their hands on hot steam. Chefs will be more prone to cuts from a knife while those that work in the automotive industry are at risk of inhaling dangerous chemicals.

Any specific hazards of a job or workplace should always be discussed when orienting new employees. This helps them to be more aware and cautious when moving around the workplace and reduces the risk of work-related injury or illness

If your employee is hired to complete manual tasks, you need to warn them about the following:

  • which postures, movements and forces of the task pose a risk
  • where during the task they pose a risk
  • why they are occurring what needs to be fixed.

In order to ensure the highest levels of safety for your employees who complete manual tasks, you need to consult Hazardous manual tasks: Code of practice 2018.

12. Avoid assigning the same repetitive tasks over and over

Repetitive tasks are more dangerous than you may think. Even if they are as simple as typing. These kinds of tasks can be taxing on your employees in two ways. Repetitive tasks can be strenuous on their body and their mind.

Repetitive tasks can cause Occupational overuse syndrome (OOS) which is another name for repetitive strain injury or RSI. It can affect your back, shoulders, arms, elbows, fingers, wrists and other joints and muscles. The common symptoms include:

  • Uncomfortable aches
  • Weak muscles
  • Restricted joint mobility
  • Swelling
  • Numbness

It is important to understand that OOS effects will not simply go away on their own and they need to be treated.

Another way repetitive tasks can take a toll on your employees is by increasing their mental fatigue. It can cause loss of focus, increase stress, trigger depression episodes, and decrease overall satisfaction levels.

Vary employee activities to keep them from doing one task for long periods of time. It also helps to rotate tasks, as this teaches staff more about how the business really works, while also allowing changes in their posture and activities.

13. Service your tools and machinery regularly

Servicing your tools and machinery should not only be done when they break down. You need to do your best to prevent any malfunctions in the first place.

Why? If machinery breaks down it may cost your business money.. Even more importantly, somebody could get hurt in the process!

Maintenance needs to be thorough, professional and regular. Proper maintenance includes:

  • Inspection
  • Testing
  • Measurement
  • Replacement
  • Adjustment
  • Keeping the logs

All maintenance needs to be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Not just anybody can maintain your equipment. Some of it will have to be subcontracted to professionals that deal with those specific pieces of equipment

14. Reduce workplace stress

The most common causes of stress and work burn-out are long hours, a heavy workload, job insecurity and conflicts. These can lead to depression, sleeping difficulties, and affect your employee’s concentration.

In more general terms, workplace stress happens when the employee’s position requirements surpass their capabilities, resources and current state. This causes frustration that, if continued for a long period of time, can turn into chronic stress.

Other risk factors of stress can include conflicts at work, being bullied or even harassed. While other stress management actions should be implemented for other causes of workplace stress, these two require stricter and sometimes even legal action.

The effects of workplace stress can range from mild to severe. Physical signs of stress are:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Low immune system
  • Muscle tension
  • Pains and headaches
  • Sweating
  • Disturbed appetite
  • Sleeping issues

Psychological effects of stress are also present and they seriously reduce the life quality of your employees. These include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, worried or guilty
  • Being irritable or unhappy
  • Losing confidence and decisiveness
  • Having negative and/or racing thoughts
  • Memory issues

Promote a healthy lifestyle and create a stress-free environment in the workplace. After all, this is one of the manager’s tasks since stress at the workplace means the workplace is not safe and managers are responsible for safety.

To act in these situations, you first need to be able to identify the risk factors of stress with your employees. Download the Job Identification Stress Checklist and use it to pinpoint any stressed individuals in your company.

After that, you need to make sure you know how to approach these individuals, while preserving their right to privacy and ensuring they don’t feel threatened. Read how to communicate with your staff on the topic of stress.

15. Stay hydrated all the times

Living and working during Australian summers can really become strenuous due to high temperatures. Dehydration is not uncommon in such circumstances. The symptoms of mild dehydration include:

  • The feeling of being thirsty
  • Having dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dark or insufficient urine

Dehydration also decreases your brain function and cognitive abilities. Even being dehydrated as little as 1-2 percent makes you think slower. This means slower reactions, less concentration and consequently, more accidents at work.

Encourage your employees to drink lots of water every day. Drinking more water, juices, and other non-alcoholic drinks at frequent intervals will help a lot with replacing all the fluids they’ve lost from working.

Coffee, alcohol and certain salty and sweet foods will increase chances of dehydration and make it more severe. Carbonated drinks are not a good source of hydration because they contain salt.

Click the image to view the whole infographic.

16. Schedule regular breaks

Employees that have regular breaks tend to feel fresher and more alert than those who don’t. Let employees rest in a cool place. This helps to avoid injuries and burnout.

The latest recommendations state that numerous mini-breaks are much more effective than one long break. According to experts, these types of breaks will improve your employee’s cognitive abilities, boost their creativity, improve their satisfaction at work, reduce stress and improve their health.

Since boosting concentration and focus is one of the benefits of taking breaks, it goes without saying that they reduce the occurrence of accidents in the workplace. Especially the ones that happen due to fatigue, lack of concentration and focus.

17. Be prepared in medical emergency situations

First aid should cover the basics. But what happens in a true emergency? In some industries, workplace accidents can be quite serious. The most common workplace injuries in Australia are:

  • Strains and sprains
  • Fractures
  • Open wounds
  • Contusions
  • Tissue disorders
  • Burns

However, even if it is not that common, people can suffer from sudden cardiac arrests or heart attacks at any time or place.

It is important to learn all about the warning signs although they may vary from one person to another. Here are the most common ones:

Make sure you have an automated external defibrillator ready in case of situations like these so you and your employees have a simple yet effective way to respond quickly to a  life threatening emergency.

Don’t wait for the defibrillator to be available before administering CPR and dialing 000. The ambulance should be called immediately.

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Being Prepared Can Save Lives

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Regular checks and maintenance, instructions on proper use are all included. Even the unit itself gives simple step-by-step instructions for use so anyone can use it when the need arises.

Alsco has been providing quality commercial services to Australia for over 50 years. We’ve leveraged that experience into services that you can count and rely upon.

Our Managed Rental Services ensure that you don’t spend too much on workplace safety. You don’t have to ever worry about the effective functionality of any equipment that you get from us because we include their upkeep in what we offer.

Additionally, all our services can be tailored to your specific needs. You say jump and we’ll ask: how high?

We also guarantee compliance with complex WHS laws.

Give Alsco a call today and we can come up with a plan truly suited to you.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Images by Oregon Department of Transportation.