This report highlights some of the activities undertaken by Safe Work Australia and WHS regulators over the last 12 months to drive improvements in health and safety for the action areas, priority industries and priority conditions identified in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 (Australian Strategy). Many of the initiatives are tailored to meet identified areas of need and cover a combination of action areas, priority industries or conditions.
Supply chains and networks
The supply chains and networks action area of the Australian Strategy aims to ensure participants in the supply chain understand their cumulative impact and actively improve health and safety of the supply chain.
SafeWork NSW is working to improve the flow of safety information in supply chains and educate all stakeholders about the role they play in improving safety. The ‘Supply Chains’ program educates key supply chain stakeholders on their WHS duties and focuses on strengthening collaboration and exchange of critical safety information throughout the supply chain. SafeWork NSW is working with industry, including the Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association and the Crane Industry Council of Australia to identify areas to influence the exchange of safety information in supply chains and develop appropriate educational resources.
Health and safety capabilities
The health and safety capabilities action area aims to ensure that everyone at a workplace has the health and safety capabilities required to perform their role effectively.
In South Australia, SafeWork SA and SA Health have worked together to develop the ‘Healthy Workers, Safe Workers’ initiative. SA Health provided funding to support the development and implementation of an evidence-based and tailored approach to integrated worker health, safety and wellbeing. The initiative will help to strengthen the role and capacity of SafeWork SA in promoting workplace health and wellbeing in South Australia.
NT WorkSafe has expanded its educational resources to engage a wide range of stakeholders in understanding and managing WHS. There are six new videos available on NT Worksafe’s YouTube channel covering key messages, including:
- Seven simple steps to manage WHS
- Understanding incident notification
- Understanding your WHS responsibilities
- Working in the heat
- Information for young workers, and
- Small business safety program.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Australian Chamber) has developed a campaign following release of the report Enabling safe and healthy workplaces for small business in June 2018. The report was commissioned by the Australian Chamber in partnership with the Department of Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business and academics from the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand. It investigates how WHS laws impact the workplace within small to medium enterprises and the frameworks and innovative methods that might enhance management of WHS. The campaign is designed to generate awareness of WHS amongst small businesses and draw attention to the barriers they face in improving health and safety.
Leadership and culture
The leadership and culture action area aims to ensure that leaders in communities and organisations promote a positive culture for health and safety, giving priority to health and safety in all work processes and decisions.
The NSW Government has committed to the WHS Roadmap for NSW 2022 (the Roadmap), which is a six-year strategy that aims to protect workers from harm, reduce unnecessary compliance costs and secure safety standards in NSW workplaces.
In the last 12 months, SafeWork NSW has ensured the Roadmap remains on-track by engaging with key stakeholders to develop and implement the following eight sector and harm plans:
- Agriculture Sector Plan
- 2022 Musculoskeletal Disorders Strategy
- Hazardous Chemicals Strategy
- Mentally Healthy Workplaces Strategy
- Manufacturing WHS Sector Plan
- Construction Sector Plan
- Government Sector Plan, and
- Transport Sector Plan.
The Roadmap aligns with the Australian Strategy and the national targets for reduction of fatalities, injuries and illnesses. In 2018, NSW decided to commit to higher targets than those set nationally, as it had already met and exceeded the national targets in advance of 2022. The Roadmap now commits NSW to new targets of a 30 per cent reduction in work related fatalities and a 50 per cent reduction in the incidence of serious injuries and illnesses by 2022.
In Queensland, the ‘LEAD Your Safety’ toolkit is being developed to provide frontline leaders with a suite of online resources to support implementing the LEAD safety culture model. The aim is to:
- develop sound survey and interview templates to understand, measure and improve safety culture
- explore how to best work with industry cohorts and influence safety culture, and
- develop safety culture benchmarks to assist with strategy and regulator intervention.
Two industry cohorts have progressed through the project, so far totalling 55 organisations and over 6,000 worker responses. The second cohort is expected to complete their surveys by mid-2019. Feedback from cohort participants has been positive, with organisations appreciating the structured and evidence-based approach to improving safety culture.
The government action area aims to ensure that development, implementation and evaluation of government policy actively considers WHS and that governments exemplify good WHS.
Comcare is trialling an early intervention pilot that offers free, phone-based nurse triage service (available 24 hours a day, seven days per week). The triage service is available to employees who are unwell, injured or displaying emerging symptoms that impact on their ability to work. Based on the triage outcomes, the nurse recommends self-management, referral to a general practitioner, physiotherapist or psychologist (and organises the appointment within one to two business days), or in the case of emergency, calling 000.
The pilot will run for six months from April 2019. Comcare is also partnering with InjuryNet in working with the Department of Health and the Department of Defence to trial the early intervention service across their workforce.
Jurisdictions continue to focus significant effort on improving safety in the priority industries under the Australian Strategy.
The NSW State Insurance Regulatory Authority (SIRA) released four videos to promote awareness of early intervention in returning to work from injury. The videos showcase positive return to work stories, including worker videos of a farmer who returned to work following amputation of one of his arms and significant damage to the other. The videos were designed to promote awareness that early intervention and appropriate support leads to positive return to work and health outcomes.
There have been a range of initiatives in the last 12 months to improve quad bike safety on farms. In NSW, the Quad Bike Safety Improvement Program addresses issues around quad bike design, retrofitting of safety devices, training, helmets, safe use and education. As at May 2019, the NSW Government has paid out $2 million in rebates to farmers through this program. Over 240 free quad bike training courses have been held across regional NSW to assist NSW farmers to be as safe as possible on their properties. As a direct result, farmers have invested over $27 million to make safety improvements on their farms.
Victoria’s Quad Bike Safety Rebate Program, administered by the Victorian Farmers Federation, approved 4,438 applications between 1 October 2016 and 23 April 2019. Over $4 million has been paid to primary producers for the purchase of a safer alternative vehicle or fitment of a suitably designed and tested operator protection device. The rebate will continue to be available until 30 September 2019, unless all funding is paid out before that time.
In Queensland, five out of the seven electrical fatalities between 2016 and 2018 were in the agricultural sector. In March 2019, the Electrical Safety Office and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland organised a forum to discuss the key electrical risks in agriculture: overhead electricity lines, unsafe electrical equipment and a lack of safety switches. The forum was the first meeting of its kind in Queensland, bringing together a range of leaders in agriculture to work on improving electrical safety, identify solutions and commit to an improvement strategy. The forum included discussion of cultural change, academic research, technological solutions, key influencers and practical examples of change. Work will continue with industry on development of a strategy to improve the electrical safety of Queensland farmers and their families.
In January 2019, SafeWork SA commenced an audit campaign to educate and inform businesses and elevating work platform (EWP) licence holders on their responsibilities when working with EWPs. The campaign aims to ensure persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) have appropriate safe systems of work in place to protect and educate workers on their responsibilities when working with EWPs to ensure their own safety and the safety of their co-workers.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland have run a campaign to reduce the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries in construction workplaces, particularly strains and sprains. The campaign included a project involving hazardous manual tasks (HMT) systems assessment and site verification of policies and procedures to assess compliance with the obligations under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld). HMT systems assessments and site verifications were carried out for 84 PCBUs, including 30 major contractors and a sample of their subcontractors. The project is currently being evaluated, but findings to date indicate manual handling is recognised as a hazard in construction, but management of issues tends to be reactive rather than involving systematic management of risk.
Health care and social assistance
The NSW SIRA has developed a predictive data model that uses 30 factors to identify employers who have difficulty managing recovery at work and return to work after injury (RTW). The aim is to develop an employer RTW predictive model that will lead to better RTW outcomes and experiences. The model is being used by SIRA to engage with large employers and inform SIRA’s 2019–20 employer engagement strategy. SIRA is using the insights from this model to develop an Employer Supervision Strategy for 2019–20.
Victoria is developing a strategic approach to improve the design of health care and social assistance facilities by providing information and guidance. They are engaging with relevant stakeholders to identify opportunities to improve the incorporation of safe design features into new buildings and refurbishments.
Mental health conditions
WHS and workers’ compensation authorities have progressed a range of initiatives to help workplaces understand and meet their obligations in relation to work-related psychological health.
The NSW SIRA and SafeWork NSW are funding and implementation partners in the NSW Government’s Mentally Healthy Workplaces (MHW) Strategy 2018–2022. The strategy aims to increase participation from NSW employers in acting against mental ill-health and deliver easy, practical help for employers and workers, which is evidence based and guided by lived experience of mental ill-heath. SIRA is the lead agency for the recovery at work component of the strategy relating to secondary and tertiary prevention of mental ill-health.
The Mental Health at Work website, along with the mental health manager training and expert WHS advice programs, were launched in October of 2018 as part of the MHW Strategy. The programs are delivering free mental health manager training, expert WHS advice and free mental health skills training to small and medium sized businesses. These programs will be expanded in 2019–20.
The ACT Public Sector Work Health Safety and Wellbeing Strategy 2019–2022 (the ACT Strategy) has been designed to deliver improved engagement, participation and productivity of workers in the ACT public sector through an integrated work health, safety and wellbeing approach.
The ACT Strategy focuses on the role of good work practices in keeping people safe and healthy by ensuring access to safe work and workplaces, promoting health and wellbeing, and facilitating recovery or supporting people to return to work when illness or injury occurs. As a signatory of the Royal Australian College of Physicians’ Australian and New Zealand Consensus Statement on the Health Benefits of Work, the ACT Government recognises that what we do, where we do it and the way we do it are all important aspects of good work.
Victoria has developed the WorkWell program, a voluntary program delivered by WorkSafe Victoria in partnership with the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services. It encourages workplaces to adopt a comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of psychological harm by providing targeted support to employers to promote mental health and wellbeing. The WorkWell program has allocated $17 million dollars over five years through the WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund, which was launched in December 2017.
Comcare has partnered with Beyond Blue, the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Electoral Commission to conduct a trial to understand the effectiveness of
Low-intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (Li-CBT) in the workplace, utilising the NewAccess model. Employees received up to six coaching sessions.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has partnered with SuperFriend and WorkCover Queensland to form Leading Well Queensland. Leading Well supports Queensland workplaces to build and maintain mentally healthy workplaces. The Leading Well collaboration recently funded the University of Queensland to pilot the 5R Leading inclusive team program. 5R is a five-step structured workplace intervention designed to build business leadership skills to enhance workplace wellbeing. Participants learn about the role of social identity toward shaping group life and gain an understanding of how positive social connections can protect against poor physical and psychological health outcomes.
Cancers (including skin cancer and asbestos-related cancers)
NT WorkSafe identified widespread public confusion about asbestos, including about which organisation to contact for issues relating to asbestos. In response, NT WorkSafe developed an asbestos website designed to:
- raise awareness about asbestos throughout the NT in order to minimise the risk of exposure to asbestos
- articulate the responsibilities for the management of asbestos, and
- create a single point of information for asbestos in the NT.
In the ACT, a new requirement in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (ACT) mandates that workers in certain occupations must undertake a prescribed course in working safely with asbestos-containing materials. This is intended to ensure that those workers who are likely to be undertaking minor or routine maintenance work are trained in how to do it properly where asbestos-containing materials may be present, for example, when drilling into a wall to install an air-conditioner or cabling.
Occupational lung diseases
In early 2018, SafeWork SA provided a one-off grant to the Adelaide Exposure Science and Health Group at the University of Adelaide to undertake further investigation in relation to a study of exposures to respirable crystalline silica in the fabrication of engineered stone benchtops, and to provide further recommendations for worksite controls. The final report with recommendations was provided to SafeWork SA in November 2018.
Based on the report’s findings, SafeWork SA developed a Silicosis Prevention Campaign in collaboration with ReturnToWorkSA and the Mining and Quarrying Occupational Health and Safety Committee. The campaign includes:
- education forums and information dissemination to PCBUs involved in the manufacture and installation of stone benchtops
- compliance audits to ensure workplaces are complying with the WHS legislation, and
- health screening for workers in the engineered benchtop industry.
SafeWork NSW established a Manufactured Stone Industry Taskforce to run between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019. The Taskforce was convened to review safety standards and consider safety improvements to better protect workers from exposure to crystalline silica dust. It was formed in response to a recommendation made by the NSW Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which conducted the review of the dust diseases care scheme.
The Taskforce completed the regulatory component of its work in October 2018, with recommendations submitted to NSW ministers in November 2018. A Silica Symposium was held on 7 May 2019 in Sydney to coincide with an expanded media campaign.
To provide health screening to Victorian stonemasons and establish a disease register for silica-related illness, WorkSafe Victoria is establishing a state-based disease registry to ensure systematic data collection and allow for future health monitoring. This registry will also collect cases of silicosis seen by physicians over the past 12 months, including those from other industry sectors. WorkSafe Victoria is delivering health screening and a disease registry in partnership with Monash University and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
In Queensland, a proactive compliance campaign of audits of all stone benchtop fabrication workplaces has revealed widespread non-compliance with existing regulatory requirements to protect workers from hazardous dust, including respirable crystalline silica. As a result of health monitoring undertaken as part of these audits, there has been an increase in the number of workers’ compensation claims for silica-related disease.
The Office of Industrial Relations (OIR) in conjunction with WorkCover Queensland (WorkCover) has raised awareness about silicosis through two forums. The first event was a medical roundtable with respiratory, occupational and general physicians and international lung disease expert Dr Bob Cohen, from the University of Illinois. The second event was an industry forum for workers and employers within the engineered stone industry. The information session focused on silicosis, treatment options to support affected workers and an update on work undertaken to date to prevent and identify the disease.
A Practitioner Guidance for Silicosis reference group has also been established to consider the need for clinical pathways that will ensure the consistent diagnosis and management of workers with silicosis in the artificial stone benchtop industry. The aim is to assist the development of guidance for clinicians involved in each stage of diagnosing and managing these workers.
Research and evaluation
The Centre for Work Health and Safety is a New South Wales initiative to produce quality research that has a real impact on NSW workplaces. The Centre brings together relevant partners and leaders in research to co-design the scope of projects to reveal important health and safety insights. These are translated into innovative harm-prevention strategies that are clearly understood by workers and employers across industry sectors. By sharing new technologies and using digital capabilities, we create exceptional experiences and deliver better processes and services to NSW workers. The Centre challenges the norm and debates the effectiveness of traditional approaches focusing on diverse and innovative thinking.
The Centre’s research in 2018–19 included research to identify what makes enforcement tools and other intervention activities effective and how interventions should best be used to secure compliance with the law. The project focused on the most effective use of penalty notices, prosecutions and enforceable undertakings but also took a broad view of enforcement activities in general. The report recommended updates to the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy and was cited in Safe Work Australia's review of national model WHS laws, led by Marie Boland.