This reporting period, the COVID-19 pandemic has again presented us all with a complex and dynamic set of challenges. Australian workplaces have shown resilience through lockdowns and restrictions that have affected their operations and the way they do business and, in turn, how they identify, manage and monitor work health and safety (WHS) risks.
As the pandemic continues, Safe Work Australia remains a trusted source of WHS COVID-19 information. I commend Safe Work Australia’s role and response in producing guidance which has helped millions of Australians to work safely throughout this unprecedented time.
Our inclusive tripartite structure, with Members representing the Commonwealth and each state and territory, workers, and employers, has never been more important. Safe Work Australia is a leader in WHS and workers’ compensation policy development, but its strength is in the knowledge that our work is the combined voice of our Members.
Reflecting on the year, I am proud of how we have delivered significant work and contributed our expertise and guidance on important issues, despite the challenges we have faced as a country.
We were at the forefront of a very important issue when we released new national WHS guidance and practical resources to help businesses understand their role and responsibilities to prevent workplace sexual harassment, violence and aggression. This was the first comprehensive WHS guidance in Australia to focus on preventing sexual harassment and it has garnered support and attention from industry and the public.
After publishing a report last year highlighting occupational lung diseases as a major health concern in Australia, we launched the Clean Air. Clear Lungs. education and awareness campaign in June. The campaign provides persons conducting a business or undertaking with valuable information and practical tools to help them protect workers from contracting an occupational lung disease.
We resumed public consultation on the final workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants. This has been an extensive process, with over 900 responses received by the end of 2020–21, a clear indication of the value of the work being done. All recommendations will be considered by Safe Work Australia Members, before being considered by WHS ministers. These reviews and modifications set the benchmark for exposure limits in Australia and ensure our guidance continues to protect workers and meet the needs of contemporary Australian workplaces.
We guided businesses to navigate the transition to the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals Revision 7 (GHS 7) and provided detailed information on what they need to know about classification and labelling requirements for workplace hazardous chemicals and the duties of manufacturers, importers, suppliers and end users.
A topical issue of mental and psychosocial health and safety was addressed with the release of the People at Work tool – an online tool to help businesses identify, assess and manage psychosocial risks at work. This would not have been possible without the collaboration between Australian WHS regulators and leading researchers. Our work in this space will help to increase mental health support at work for those who need it.
As a forward-thinking agency, we are driven to provide relevant and timely information, backed by evidence. We published information on working safely in the heat and in our changing climate and also when undertaking high-risk work, as many people in Australia do. We provided information on preventing musculoskeletal disorders, to showcase how work-related issues like these can be prevented.
As we look to the future, implementing the recommendations from the review of the model WHS laws (the 2018 Review) provides an opportunity to refine the national WHS legislation and guidance to ensure it remains contemporary and fit for purpose.
As an authority for WHS in the Australian community, we will continue to combine the ideas and insights from our Members into clear, coherent and robust advice for WHS guidance, regulation and legislation. This and all our work will help us to make the working lives of all Australians safer and healthier.