Policies are essential in the workplace as they clarify the standards expected of workers and help employers manage staff more effectively. As such, WHS policies are very important for most organisations, as they help define what is acceptable from a health and safety perspective. They demonstrate an organisation’s attitude towards its workers’ wellbeing, showing commitment and building trust. However, it is no good to just have a policy for policy’s sake. While this may tick a box and make it seem that WHS obligations are being upheld, it can create risk if the purpose is not centred around protecting the worker.
The Importance of WHS Policies
Policies are a vital part of workplace safety. When they are well-written, they can help businesses in many ways:
- Reinforce and clarify the standards expected of employees.
- Demonstrate the organisation is efficiently and appropriately operated.
- Ensure consistency in decision-making and operational procedures.
- Enable employers to defend themselves in the event of a dispute.
- Establish the company’s commitment to WHS.
- Encourage staff retention and a strong employee base.
To enable them to work, policies should be clearly communicated to both new and existing employees. It is no good having a policy if no-one is aware of it, and a piece of paper alone is nowhere near sufficient in the event of a liability dispute.
Key Inclusions of WHS Policies
Every company must have the correct systems in place to implement and monitor their workplace health and safety obligations. While policies are not a legal requirement in themselves, in every instance, under Australian WHS legislation businesses are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment.
Policies are a written confirmation of WHS obligations and include such things as:
- Risk assessments
- Equipment maintenance
- Safe handling procedures
- Responsibilities and authorities
- Emergency procedures
And, it’s no good just having policies as pieces of paper to show to WHS representatives, employees must be aware of them if they are to be effective. Clarity is vital, policies must outline their aims, definitions must be clear and examples given to flesh out best practice. There should be no doubt as to who the policies apply to and what to do in the event of an incident or grievance. In the first instance, employees should be introduced to workplace health and safety policies during their induction training, but existing employees should also have regular opportunities to refresh their knowledge.
Are Generic WHS Policies Fit for Purpose?
With so many templates and generic WHS policies available, it can be easy to put something in writing. However, there are no guarantees that generic policies will be suitable for your business. Policies must always reflect your business accurately. This includes your core values and expectations. Implementing generic rules and requirements might make your business compliant, but it can be confusing for employees. If your workers are frustrated by discord between your workplace culture and your WHS policies, then there is a much greater risk of procedures not being followed and incidents occurring.
Are Outdated Policies Putting Your Business at Risk?
There is very little value in having policies that don’t reflect obligations under WHS law. In fact, when this happens, they can be more of a hindrance than a help. Outdated policies build a false sense of security amongst the workforce and create more risk.
Policies can very quickly become ineffective or outdated as both your business and legislation evolve. Old policies can fail to comply with new laws and regulations. Also, they might not address new systems and technology, resulting in inconsistent practices.
The Value of Reviewing Your WHS Policies
It is very important to have a plan in place for regular reviews of your policies if they are to stay true to your business and meet necessary compliance. It should be clear who is responsible for reviewing and drafting amendments and that any changes, once made, are clearly communicated to all employees.
There are no excuses. Reviewing your workplace health and safety policies should form part of your corporate calendar, becoming an annual task (depending on your business more often) assigned to the relevant staff resource or department. Policies should also be reviewed if there are any significant organisational changes and, most definitely, in the event that an incident occurs.
When updating policies, you should ask yourself:
- Is the policy being implemented as intended?
- Are procedures difficult to follow?
- Has any new technology or process been introduced?
- Is there adequate training?
- Have there been any changes to industry law?
How to Make Your WHS Policies Work
Policies should be backed up by a genuine, demonstrated commitment to the health and safety of your workers. They should express the organisation’s aim to remove or minimise risk, show a commitment to ongoing improvements and adapt with the company as living documents.
No business can guarantee absolute safety to its staff, but it can reduce the risk as much as possible. Having effective policies in place goes a long way towards achieving this, but only if you are committed to making them as effective as they should be.