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Work Health and Safety

Guide to the WHS Act

This Guide to the WHS Act covers many topics of interest to system safety and design safety specialists, this full-length video explains the Federal Australian Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act (latest version, as of 14 Nov 2020). Brought to you by The Safety Artisan: professional, pragmatic, and impartial.

This is the four-minute demo of the full, 44-minute-long video.

Recap: In the Short Video…

which is here, we looked at:

  • The Primary Duty of Care; and
  • Duties of Designers.

Topics: Guide to the WHS Act

In this full video we will look at much more…

  • § 3, Object [of the Act];
  • § 4-8, Definitions;
  • § 12A, Exclusions;
  • § 18, Reasonably Practicable;
  • § 19, Primary Duty of Care;
  • § 22-26, Duties of Designers, Manufacturers, Importers, Suppliers & those who Install/Construct/Commission;
  • § 27, Officers & Due Diligence;
  • § 46-49, Consult, Cooperate & Coordinate;
  • § 152, Function of the Regulator; and
  • § 274-276, WHS Regulations and CoP.

Transcript: Guide to the WHS Act

Click here for the Transcript

Hi everyone and welcome to the Safety Artisan where you will find instructional videos like this one with professional, pragmatic and impartial advice which we hope you enjoy. I’m Simon and I’m recording this on the 13th of October 2019. So today we’re going to be talking about the Australian Federal Work Health and Safety Act and call it an unofficial guide or system or design safety practitioners whatever you want to call yourselves because I’m looking at the WHS Act from the point of view of system safety and design safety.

 As opposed to managing the workplace although it does that as well. Few days ago, I recorded a short video version of this and in the short video we looked at the primary duty of care and the duty particularly we look at the duty of designs. And so, we spent some time looking at that and that video is available on the freight on petrol on the safety artisan page at Patreon.com. It’s available at safetyartisan.com and you can watch it on YouTube. So just search for safety artisan on YouTube.

Topics

So, in this video, we’re going to look at much more than that. I say selected topics we’re not going to look at everything in the WHS Act as you can see there are several hundred sections of it. We’ll be here all day. So, what we’re going to look at are things that are relevant to systems safety to design safety. So, we look very briefly at the object of the act, at what it’s trying to achieve. Just one slight of definitions because there’s a lot of exclusions because the Act doesn’t apply to everything in Australia.

 We’re going to look at the Big Three involved. So really the three principles that will help us understand what the act is trying to achieve is:

  • what is reasonably practicable. That phrase that I’ve used several times before.
  • What is the primary duty of care so that sections 18 and 19. And if we jump to
  • Section 27 What are or who are officers and what does due diligence mean in a WHS setting?

So, if I step back one section 22 to 26 you know the duties of various people in the supply chain.  We cover that in the short session. So, go ahead and look at that and then moving on. There are requirements for duty holders to consult cooperate and coordinate and then a brief mention of the function of the regulator. And finally, the WHS Act enables WHS regulations and codes of practice. So we’re just mentioned that so those are the topics we’re going to cover quite a lot to get through. So that’s critical.

Disclaimer

So, first this is a disclaimer from the website from the federal legislation site and it does remind people looking at the site that the information put up there is for the benefit of the public and it’s free of charge.

 So, when you’re looking at this stuff you need to look at the relevance of the material for your purposes. OK, I’m looking at the Web site it is not a substitute for getting legal or appropriate professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances. So quick disclaimer there. This is just a way a website with general advice I think we’ll get we’ll get them and hence this video is only as good as the content that’s being present okay.

The Object of the Act

So, the object of the act then as you can say I’m quoting from it because I’m using quotation marks, so the main object of the act is to provide a balanced and nationally consistent framework for the health and safety of workers and workplaces.

 And that’s important in Australia because Australia is a federated state. So, we’ve got states and territories and we’ve got the federal government or the Commonwealth as it’s usually known and the laws all those different bodies do not always line up. In fact, sometimes it seems like the state and territories delight in doing things that are different from each other and different from the Commonwealth. And that’s not particularly helpful if you’re trying to you know operate in Australia as a corporation or you know you’re trying to do something big and trying to invest in the country.

 So, the WHS act of a model WHS Act was introduced to try and harmonize all this stuff. And you’ll see some more about that on the website. By the way and I’ve missed out on some objectives. As you can see, I’m not doing one subset B to H go to have a look at it online. But then in Section 2 The reminder is the principle of giving the highest level of protection against harm to workers and other persons as is reasonably practicable. Wonderful phrase again which will come back to okay.

Definitions

 Now there are lots of definitions in the act. And it’s worth having a look at them particularly if you look at the session that I did on system safety concepts, I was using definitions from the UK standard. Now I did that for a reason because that set of definitions was very well put together. So it was ideal for explaining those fundamental concepts where the concepts in Australia WHS are very different so if you are operating in Australian jurisdiction or you want to sell into an Australian jurisdiction do look at those definitions and actually being aware of what the definitions are will actually save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

 Now because we’re interested systems safety practitioners of introducing complex systems into service. I’ve got the definitions here of plant structure and substance. So basically, plant is any machinery equipment appliance container implement or to any component of those things and anything fitted or connected to any of those things. So, they go going for pretty a pretty broad definition. But bearing in mind we’re talking about plants we’re not talking about consumer goods. We’re not talking about selling toasters or electric toothbrushes to people. OK. There’s other legislation that covers consumer goods.

 Then when it comes to structure again, we’ve got anything that is constructed be fixed or movable temporary or permanent. And it might include things on the ground towers and masks underground pipelines infrastructure tunnels and mining any components or parts thereof. Again, a very broad definition and similarly substance any natural or artificial substance in whatever form it might be. So again, very broad and as you might recall from the previous session a lot of the rules for designers’ manufacturers, importers and suppliers cover plant structure and substances. So hence that’s why I picked just those three definitions out of the dozens there.

Exclusions

 It’s worth mentioning briefly exclusions: what the Act does not apply to. So, first, the Act does not apply to commercial ships basically. So, in Australia, the Federal legislation covering the safety of people in the commercial maritime industry is the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Maritime Industry) 1993, which is usually known as “OSHMI” applies to commercial vessels, so WHS does not. And the second exclusion is if you are operating an offshore petroleum or greenhouse gas storage platform and I think it’s more than three nautical miles offshore.

 But don’t take my word for that if you’re in that business go and check with the regulator NOPSEMA then this act the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 applies or OPGGS for short. So, if you’re in the offshore oil industry then you’ve got a separate Commonwealth act plot but those are the only two exceptions. So, where Commonwealth law applies the only things that WHS. does not apply to is commercial ships and offshore platforms I mentioned state and territory vs. Commonwealth. All the states and territories have adopted the model WHS system except Victoria which so far seems to be showing no interest in adopting WHS.

 Thanks, Victoria, for that. That’s very helpful! Western Australia is currently in process of consultation to adopt WHS, but they’ve still got their current OH&S legislation. So just note that there are some exclusions there. OK so if you’re in those jurisdictions then WHS does not apply. And of course, there are many other pieces of legislation and regulation that cover particular kinds of risk in Australia. For example, there’s a separate act called ARPANS that covers ionizing a non-ionizing radiation.

There are many other acts that cover safety and environmental things. Let’s go back one when I’m talking about those specific acts. They only apply to specific things whereas WHS act is a general Act applies to everything except those things that it doesn’t like to write move on.

So Far As is Reasonably Practicable

Okay now here we come to one of these three big ticket items and I’ve got two slides here. So, in this definition of reasonably practicable when it comes to ensuring health and safety reasonably practicable means doing what you are reasonably able to do to achieve the high standards of health safety in place.

 Considering and weighing up all the relevant matters; including, say, the first two we need to think about the likelihood of a hazard or risk. How likely is this thing to occur this potential threat to human health? And what’s the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk. So, we’ve got a likelihood and degree of harm or severity. So, if we recall the fundamental definition of risk is that it’s though it’s the factor of those two things taken together. So, this first part we’re thinking about what is the risk?

 And it’s worth mentioning that hazard is not defined in the Act and risk is very loosely defined. So, the act is being deliberately very broad here. We’re not taking a position on or style of approach to describing risks, so to the second part.

Having thought about the risk now we should consider what the person PCBU or officer, whoever it might be, ought reasonably to know about the hazard or risk and the ways of eliminating or minimizing the risks. So, what we should know about the risk and the ways of dealing with it of mitigating it of controlling and then we’ve got some more detail on these ways of controlling the risk.

 We need to think about the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimize the risk. Now I’m probably going to do a separate session on reasonably practicable because there is a whole guidebook on how to do it. So, we’ll go through that and at some stage in the future and go through that step by step about how you determine availability and suitability et cetera. And so, once you get into it it’s not too difficult. You just need to follow the guidelines which are very clear and very well laid out.

 So having done all of those things, after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of controlling it the we can then think about the cost associated with those risk controls and whether the cost of those controls is grossly disproportionate to the risk. As we will see later, in the special session, if the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk reduction then it’s probably not reasonable to do it. So, you don’t necessarily have to do it but we will step back and just look at the whole thing.

So, in a and b we’re looking at the likelihood and severity of the risk so and we’re (quantifying or qualitatively) assessing the risk. We’re thinking about what we could do about it, how available and suitable are those risk controls, and then putting it all together. How much will it cost to implement those risk controls and how reasonably practicable to do so. So what we have here is basically a risk assessment process that leads us to a decision about which controls we need to implement in order to achieve that ‘reasonably practicable’ statement that you see in so many parts of the act and indeed it’s also in the definition itself.

 So, this is how we determine what is reasonably practicable. We follow a risk assessment process. There is a risk assessment Code of Practice, which I will do a separate session on, which gives you a basic minimum risk assessment process to follow that will enable us to decide what is reasonably practicable. Okay, quite a big topic there. And as I say we’ll come back and do a couple more sessions on how to determine reasonably practical, so moving on to the primary duty of care we covered in the short session.

The Primary Duty of Care

 So I’m not really going to go through this again [in detail] but basically our primary duty is to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers, whether we’ve engaged them whether we’ve got somebody else to engage them or whether we are influencing or directing people carrying out the work. We have a primary duty of care if we’re doing any of those things. And secondly, it’s worth mentioning that the person conducting a business or undertaking the PCBU must ensure the health and safety of other people. Say, visitors to the workplace are members of the public who happen to be near the workplace.

 And of course, bearing in mind that this law applies to things like trains and aircraft if you have an accident with your moving vehicle or your plant you could put people in danger – in the case of aeroplanes anywhere in Australia and beyond. So, it’s not just about the work, the workers in the workplace. With some systems, you’ve got a very onerous responsibility to protect the public depending on what you’re doing. Now for a little bit more detail that we didn’t have in the short session. When we say we must ensure health and safety we’re talking about the provision and maintenance of a safe work environment or safe plant structures or safe systems of work talking about safe use handling and storage of structures and substances.

 We’re talking about adequate facilities for workers that are talking about the provision of information, training, instruction or supervision. Those workers and finally the health of workers and conditions of the workplace are monitored if need be for the purpose of preventing illness or injury. So, there should be some general monitoring of health and safety-related incidents. And if you’re dealing with certain chemicals or are you intentionally exposing people to certain things you may have to conduct special monitoring looking for contamination or poisoning of those people whatever it may be. So, you’ve got quite a bit of detail there about what it means to carry out the primary duty of care.

 And this is all consistent with the duties that we’ve talked about on designers, manufacturers, importers, and suppliers and for all these things there are codes of practice giving guidance on how to do these things. So, this whole work health and safety system is well thought through, put together, in that the law says you’ve got to do this. And there are regulations and codes of practice giving you more information on how you can fulfil your primary directive and indeed how you must fulfill your primary duty.

 And then finally there’s a slightly unusual part for at the end and this covers the special case where workers need to occupy accommodation under the control of the PCBU in order to get the job done. So you could imagine if you need workers to live somewhere remote and you provided accommodation then there are requirements for the employer to take care of those workers and maintain those premises so that they not exposed to risks.

 That’s a big deal because she might have a remote plant, especially in Australia which is a big place and not very well populated. You might be a long way away from external help. So if you have an emergency on-site you’re going to have to provide everything (not just an emergency you need to do that anyway) but if you’ve got workers living remotely as often happens in Australia you’ve got to look after those workers in a potentially very harsh environment.

And then finally it’s worth mentioning that self-employed persons have got to take care of their own health and safety. Note that a self-employed person is a PCBU, so even self-employed people have a duty of care as a PCBU.

The Three Duties

OK, sections 22 to 26. Take that primary duty of care and elaborate it for designers and manufacturers, importers and suppliers and for those installing constructing or commissioning plant substances and structures. And as we said in the free session all of those roles all of the people BCBS is doing that have three duties they have to ensure safety in a workplace and that includes you know designing and manufacturing the thing and ensuring that it’s safe and meets Australian regulations and obligations.

 We have a duty to test which actually includes doing all the calculations analysis and examination that’s needed to demonstrate safety and then to provide needed information to everybody who might use or come into contact with the system so those three duties apply consistently across the whole supply chain. Now we spent some time talking about that. We’re going to move on OK, so we are halfway through. So, a lot to take in. I hope you’re finding this useful and enjoying this. Let’s move on. Now this is an interesting one.

Officers of the PCBU

Officers of the PCBU have additional duties and an officer of the PCBU might be a company director. That’s explicitly included in the definition. A senior manager somebody who has influence. Offices of the PCBU must exercise due diligence. So basically, the implied relationship is you’ve got a PCBU, you’ve got somebody directing work whether it be design work manufacturing operating a piece of kit whatever it might be. And then there are more senior people who are in turn directing those PCBUs (the officers) so the officers must exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBUs comply with their duties and obligations.

Sections 2 to 4 cover penalties for offices if they fail. I’m not going to discuss that because as I’ve said elsewhere on the Safety Artisan website, I don’t like threatening people with penalties because I actually think that results in poor behavior, it actually results in people shirking and avoiding their duties rather than embracing them and getting on with it. If you frighten people or tell them what’s going to happen to them, they get it wrong. So, I’m not going to go there. If you’re interested you can look up the penalties for various people, which are clearly laid out. We move on to Section 5.

Due Diligence

 We’re now talking about what is due diligence in the context of health and safety. OK, I need to be precise because the term due diligence appears in other Australian law in various places meaning various things, but here this is the definition of due diligence within the WHS context. So, we’ve got six things to do in order to demonstrate due diligence.

So, officers must acquire and keep up to date with knowledge of work health and safety matters obligations and so forth. Secondly, officers must gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the piece and risks they control.  So, if you’re a company director you need to know something about what the operation does. You cannot hide behind “I didn’t know” because it’s a legal requirement for you to do it. So that closes off a whole bunch of defenses in court. You can’t plead ignorance because ignorance is, in fact, illegal and you’ve got to have a general understanding of the hazards and risks associated with those operations. So, you don’t necessarily have to be up on all the specifics of everything going on in your organization but whatever it is that your organization does. You should be aware of the general costs and risks associated with that kind of business.

Now, thirdly, we are moving on basically C D E and F refer to appropriate resources and processes, so the officers have got to ensure that PCBUs have available and use appropriate resources and processes in order to control risks. OK so that says you’ve got to provide those resources and processes and there is supervision, or some kind of process or requirement to say, yep, we put in let’s say a safety management system that ensures people do actually use the stuff that they are supposed to use in order to keep themselves safe.

 And that’s very relevant of course because often people don’t like wearing, for example, protective personal protective equipment because it’s uncomfortable or slows you down, so the temptation is to take it off. Moving on to part D we’re still on the appropriate processes; we must have appropriate processes for receiving and considering information on incidents, hazards and risks. So again, we’ve got to have something in place that keeps us up to date with the incidents, hazards and risks in our own plants and maybe similar plants in the industry and, we need a process to respond in a timely way to that information.

 So, if we discover that there is a new incident or hazard that you didn’t previously know about. We need to respond and react to that quickly enough to make a difference to the health and safety of workers. So again as another that sort of works in concert with part B doesn’t it. In part A and B we need to keep up to date on the risks and what’s going on in the business and part A, we need to ensure that the PCBU has processes for compliance with any duty or obligation and follows them again to provide that stuff.

In the system safety world, often the designers will need to provide the raw material that becomes those processes. Or maybe if we’re selling the product, we sell a product with the instruction manual with all the processes that could be required.

And then finally the officers must verify the provision and use of these resources and processes that we’ve been talking about in C D an E. So, we’ve got a simple six-point program that comprises due diligence, but as you can see it’s very to the point and it’s quite demanding. There’s no shirking this stuff or pretending you didn’t know and it’s I suspect it’s designed to hang Company directors who neglect and abuse their workers and, as a result, harm happens to them.

But I mean ultimately let’s face it this is all good common-sense stuff. We should be doing this anyway. And in any kind of high-risk industry we should have a safety management system that does all of this and more. These are only the minimum required for all industries and all undertakings in Australia. OK let’s move away from the big stick. Let’s talk about some sort of cozy, softer stuff.

Consult, Cooperate and Coordinate

If you are a duty holder, if you’ve got a duty of care to people as a PCBU or an officer, you must consult, cooperate and coordinate your activities with all other offices and bases be used.

You have a duty in relation to the same matter. So perhaps you are a supplier of kit and you get information from the designer or the manufacturer with the updates on safety or maybe they inform you of problems with the kit. You must pass that on. Let’s imagine you’re introducing a complex system into service. There are going to be lots of different stakeholders, and you all must work together in order to meet WHS obligations. So, there’s no excuse or trying to ask the buck to other people.

That’s not going to work if you haven’t actively managed the risk, as you are potentially already doing something illegal and again, we won’t talk about the penalties of this. We’re just talking about the good things we’re expected to do. So, we’re trying to keep it positive. And you’ve got a duty to consult with your workers who either carry out work or who are likely to be directly affected by what’s going on and the risks. Now, this is a requirement that procedures in Sections 2 and 3, but of course we should be consulting with our workers because they’ve often got practical knowledge about controlling risks and what is available and suitable to do so, which we will find helpful.

So, consulting workers is not only a duty it’s actually a good way of doing business and doing business efficiently so moving on to section 152.

The Regulator

There are several sections about the regulator, but to my mind, they don’t add much. So, we’re just going to talk about Section 152, which is the functions of a regulator and the regulator has got several functions. So, they give advice and make recommendations to the relevant minister or Commonwealth Minister of the government. They monitor and enforce compliance with the act.

 They provide advice and information to duty holders and the community they collect analyse and publish statistics. They’re supposed to foster a co-operative, consultative relationship in the community to promote and support education and training and to engage in and promote and coordinate the sharing of information. And then finally they’ve got some legal duties with courts and industrial tribunals, and here’s the catch-all, any other function conferred on the regulator by the Act. If we look at the first six the ones that I’ve highlighted there are a number of regulators in Australia and because of the complexity of our federal government system, we’ve got.

 It’s not always clear which regulator you need to deal with and not all regulators are very good at this stuff. I have to say having worked in Europe and America and Australia, for example on Part D. Australian regulators are not very good at analyzing and publishing statistics in general. Usually, if you want high-quality statistics from a regulator, you’re usually better off looking at a European regulator in your industry or an American regulator. The Aussie ones don’t seem to be very good at that, in general.

There are exceptions. NOPSEMA, for example in the offshore world, are particularly good. But then you would expect because of the inherent dangers of offshore operations. Otherwise, I’ve not been that impressed with some of the regulators. The exception to that is Safe Work Australia. So, if you’re looking for advice and information, statistics, education and training and sharing of information then Safe Work Australia is your best bet. Now ironically Safe Work Australia is not a regulator.

Safe Work Australia

They are a statutory authority and they created, in consultation with many others I might say, they created a model WHS Act the model regulations and the Model Codes practice. So, if you go on their website you will find lots of good information on there and indeed I tend to look at that in order to find information to post on safety artisan. So, they’ve got some good WHS information on there. But of course, the wherever you go look at their site you must bear in mind that they are not the regulator of anything or anyone. So, for you’ve also got to go and look at the find the relevant regulator to your business or undertaking and you’ve got to look at what your regulator requires you to do.

 Very often when it comes to looking at guidance your best bet is safe work Australia okay.

Regulations and Codes of Practice

I’ve mentioned regulations and codes of practice. Basically, these sections of the act enable those codes of practice and regulations so the Minister has power to approve Commonwealth codes of practice and similarly state and territory ministers can do the same for their versions of WHS. This is very interesting and we’ll come back to relook at codes of practice in another session. An approved code of practice is admissible in court as evidence, it’s admissible as the test of whether or not a duty or obligation under the WHS Act has been complied with.

 And basically, the implication of this is that you are ignorant of codes of practice at your peril because if something goes wrong then codes of practice are what you will be judged against at minimum. So that’s a very important point to note and we’ll come back to that on another session.

Next, Codes of Practice and then regulation-making powers. For some unknown reason to me, the Governor-General may authorize regulations. I mean that doesn’t really matter. The codes of practice and the regulations are out there, and the regulations are quite extensive.  I think six hundred pages. So, there’s a lot of stuff in there. And again, we’ll do a separate session on WHS regulations soon OK.

That’s All Folks!

I appreciate we’ve covered quite a lot of ground there but of course, you can watch the video as many times as you like and go and look at the Act online. Mentioning that all the information I’ve shown you is pretty much word for word taken from the federal register of legislation and I’m allowed to do that under the terms of the license.

Creative Commons Licence

 And it’s one of those terms I have to tell you that I took this information yesterday on the 12th of October 2019. You should always go to that website to find the latest on Commonwealth legislation (and indeed if you’re working on it state or territory jurisdiction you should go and see the relevant regulator’s legislation on their site). Finally, you will find more information on copyright and attribution at the SafetyArtisan.com website, where I’ve reproduced all of the requirements, which you can check. At the Safety Artisan we’re very pleased to comply with all our obligations.

Now for more on this video, you may have seen it on Patreon on the Safety Artisan page or you may have seen it elsewhere, but it is for sure available Patreon.com/SafetyArtisan. Okay. So, thank you very much for listening and all that remains for me to do is to sign off and say thanks for listening and I look forward to presenting another session to you in a month’s time. Take care.

Back to the WHS Topic Page.

Categories
Safe Design

Good Work Design

The content of this post is taken from the ‘Principles of Good Work Design’ handbook from Safe Work Australia. The handbook is © Commonwealth of Austr​alia, 2019; this document is covered by a Creative Commons licence (CCBY 4.0) – for full details see here.

Some changes have been made to the guidance in order to improve Search Engine Optimisation and correct minor problems with Figure numbering in the original document. All changes are indicated [thus].

Introduction

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 is underpinned by the principle that well-designed healthy and safe work will allow workers to have more productive lives. This can be more efficiently achieved if hazards and risks are eliminated through good design.

The ten principles of good work design

This handbook contains ten principles which demonstrate how to achieve good design of work and work processes. Each is general in nature so they can be successfully applied to any workplace, business or industry.

The ten principles for good work design are structured into three sections:

  1. Why good work design is important
  2. What should be considered in good work design, and
  3. How good work is designed

These principles are shown in the diagram at Figure 1.

This handbook complements a range of existing resources available to businesses and work health and safety professionals including guidance for the safe design of plant and structures see the Safe Work Australia Website.

Scope of the handbook

This handbook provides information on how to apply the good work design principles to work and work processes to protect workers and others who may be affected by the work. 

It describes how design can be used to set up the workplace, working environment and work tasks to protect the health and safety of workers, taking into account their range of abilities and vulnerabilities, so far as reasonably practicable.

The handbook does not aim to provide advice on managing situations where individual workers may have special requirements such as those with a disability or on a return to work program following an injury or illness. Contact your regulator for further information.

Who should use this handbook?

This handbook should be used by those with a role in designing work and work processes, including:

  • Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) with a primary duty of care under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.
  • PCBUs who have specific design duties relating to the design of plant, substances and structures including the buildings in which people work.
  • People responsible for designing organisational structures, staffing rosters and systems of work.
  • Professionals who provide expert advice to organisations on work health and safety matters.

Good work design optimises work health and safety, human performance, job satisfaction, and business success.

Information: Experts who provide advice on the design of work may include: engineers, architects, ergonomists, information and computer technology professionals, occupational hygienists, organisational psychologists, human resource professionals, occupational therapists and physiotherapists.

Figure 1 – Good work design principles

An image of good work design principles

What is ‘good work’?

‘Good work’ is healthy and safe work where the hazards and risks are eliminated or minimised so far as is reasonably practicable. Good work is also where the work design optimises human performance, job satisfaction and productivity.

Good work contains positive work elements that can:

  • protect workers from harm to their health, safety and welfare
  • improve worker health and wellbeing, and
  • improve business success through higher worker productivity.

What is good work design?

The most effective design process begins at the earliest opportunity during the conceptual and planning phases. At this early stage there is the greatest chance of finding ways to design-out hazards, incorporate effective risk control measures and design-in efficiencies.

Effective design of good work considers:

The work:

  • how work is performed, including the physical, mental and emotional demands of the tasks and activities
  • the task duration, frequency, and complexity, and
  • the context and systems of work.

The physical working environment:

  • the plant, equipment, materials and substances used, and
  • the vehicles, buildings, structures that are workplaces.

The workers:

  • physical, emotional and mental capacities and needs.

Effective design of good work can radically transform the workplace in ways that benefit the business, workers, clients and others in the supply chain.

Failure to consider how work is designed can result in poor risk management and lost opportunities to innovate and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of work.

The principles for good work design support duty holders to meet their obligations under the WHS laws and also help them to achieve better business practice generally.

For the purposes of this handbook a work designer is anyone who makes decisions about the design or redesign of work. This may be driven by the desire to improve productivity as well as the health and safety of people who will be doing the work

The WHY Principles

Why is good work design important?

Principle 1: Good work design gives the highest level of protection so far as is reasonably practicable

  • All workers have a right to the highest practicable level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare.
  • The primary purpose of the WHS laws is to protect persons from work-related harm so far as is reasonably practicable.
  • Harm relates to the possibility that death, injury, illness or disease may result from exposure to a hazard in the short or longer term.
  • Eliminating or minimising hazards at the source before risks are introduced in the workplace is a very effective way of providing the highest level of protection.

Principle 1 refers to the legal duties under the WHS laws. These laws provide the framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of workers and others who might be affected by the work. During the work design process workers and others should be given the highest level of protection against harm that is reasonably practicable.

Prevention of workplace injury and illness

Well-designed work can prevent work-related deaths, injuries and illnesses. The potential risk of harm from hazards in a workplace should be eliminated through good work design.

Only if that is not reasonably practicable, then the design process should minimise hazards and risks through the selection and use of appropriate control measures.

New hazards may inadvertently be created when changing work processes. If the good work design principles are systematically applied, potential hazards and risks arising from these changes can be eliminated or minimised.

Information: Reducing the speed of an inappropriately fast process line will not only reduce production errors, it can diminish the likelihood of a musculoskeletal injury and mental stress.

Principle 2: Good work design enhances health and wellbeing

  • Health is a “state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (World Health Organisation).
  • Designing good work can help improve health over the longer term by improving workers’ musculoskeletal condition, cardiovascular functioning and their mental health.
  • Good work design optimises worker function and improves participation enabling workers to have more productive working lives.

Health benefits

Effective design aims to prevent harm, but it can also positively enhance the health and wellbeing of workers for example, satisfying work and positive social interactions can help improve people’s physical and mental health.

As a general guide, the healthiest workers have been found to be three times more productive than the least healthy (PDF file). It therefore makes good business sense for work design to support people’s health and wellbeing.

Information: Recent research has shown long periods of sitting (regardless of exercise regime) can lead to increased risk of preventable musculoskeletal disorders and chronic diseases such as diabetes. In an office environment, prolonged sitting can be reduced by allowing people to alternate between sitting or standing whilst working.

Principle 3: Good work design enhances business success and productivity

  • Good work design prevents deaths, injuries and illnesses and their associated costs, improves worker motivation and engagement and in the long-term improves business productivity.
  • Well-designed work fosters innovation, quality and efficiencies through effective and continuous improvement.
  • Well-designed work helps manage risks to business sustainability and profitability by making work processes more efficient and effective and by improving product and service quality.

Cost savings and productivity improvements

Designing-out problems before they arise is generally cheaper than making changes after the resulting event, for example by avoiding expensive retrofitting of workplace controls.

Good work design can have direct and tangible cost savings by decreasing disruption to work processes and the costs from workplace injuries and illnesses.

Good work design can also lead to productivity improvements and business sustainability by:

  • allowing organisations to adjust to changing business needs and to streamline work processes by reducing wastage, training and supervision costs
  • improving opportunities for creativity and innovation to solve production issues, reduce errors and improve service and product quality, and
  • making better use of workers’ skills resulting in more engaged and motivated staff willing to contribute greater additional effort.
A diagram of the why principles
[Figure 1.1, Good Work Design Hleath Benefits]

The WHAT Principles

What should be considered by those with design responsibilities?

Principle 4: Good work design addresses physical, biomechanical, cognitive and psychosocial characteristics of work, together with the needs and capabilities of the people involved

  • Good work design addresses the different hazards associated with work e.g. chemical, biological and plant hazards, hazardous manual tasks and aspects of work that can impact on mental health.
  • Work characteristics should be systematically considered when work is designed, redesigned or the hazards and risks are assessed.
  • These work characteristics should be considered in combination and one characteristic should not be considered in isolation.
  • Good work design creates jobs and tasks that accommodate the abilities and vulnerabilities of workers so far as reasonably practicable.

All tasks have key characteristics with associated hazards and risks, as shown in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 – Key characteristics of work


Hazards and risks associated with tasks are identified and controlled during good work design processes and they should be considered in combination with all hazards and risks in the workplace. This highlights that it is the combination that is important for good work design.

Workers can also be exposed to a number of different hazards from a single task. For example, meat boning is a common task in a meat-processing workplace. This task has a range of potential hazards and risks that need to be managed, e.g. physical, chemical, biological, biomechanical and psychosocial. Good work design means the hazards and risks arising from this task are considered both individually and collectively to ensure the best control solutions are identified and applied.

Good work design can prevent unintended consequences which might arise if task control measures are implemented in isolation from other job considerations. For example, automation of a process may improve production speed and reduce musculoskeletal injuries but increase risk of hearing loss if effective noise control measures are not also considered.

Workers have different needs and capabilities; good work design takes these into account. This includes designing to accommodate them given the normal range of human cognitive, biomechanical and psychological characteristics of the work.

Information: The Australian workforce is changing. It is typically older with higher educational levels, more inclusive of people with disabilities, and more socially and ethnically diverse. Good work design accommodates and embraces worker diversity. It will also help a business become an employer of choice, able to attract and retain an experienced workforce.

Principle 5: Good work design considers the business needs, context and work environment.

  • Good work design is ‘fit for purpose’ and should reflect the needs of the organisation including owners, managers, workers and clients.
  • Every workplace is different so approaches need to be context specific. What is good for one situation cannot be assumed to be good for another, so off-the-shelf solutions may not always suit every situation.
  • The work environment is broad and includes: the physical structures, plant and technology, work layout, organisational design and culture, human resource systems, work health and safety processes and information/control systems.

The business organisational structure and culture, decision making processes, work environment and how resources and people are allocated to the work will directly and indirectly impact on work design and how well and safely the work is done.

The work environment includes the physical structures, plant, and technology. Planning for relocations, refurbishments or when introducing new engineering systems are ideal opportunities for businesses to improve their work designs and avoid foreseeable risks.

These are amongst the most common work changes a business undertakes yet good design during these processes is often quite poorly considered and implemented. An effective design following the processes described in this handbook can yield significant business benefits.

Information: Off the shelf solutions can be explored for some common tasks, however usually design solutions need to be tailored to suit a particular workplace.

Good work design is most effective when it addresses the specific business needs of the individual workplace or business. Typically work design solutions will differ between small and large businesses.

However, all businesses must eliminate or minimise their work health and safety risks so far as reasonably practicable. The specific strategies and controls will vary depending on the circumstances.

The table on the next page demonstrates how to step through the good work design process for small and large businesses.

Table 1 – steps in good work design for large and small businesses

Good design steps In a large business that is downsizing In a small business that is undergoing a refit
Management commitment Senior management make their commitment to good work design explicit ahead of downsizing and may hire external expertise.   The owner tells workers about their commitment to designing-out hazards during the upcoming refit of the store layout to help improve safety and efficiency.  
Consult The consequences of downsizing and how these can be managed are discussed in senior management and WHS committee meetings with appropriate representation from affected work areas.   The owner holds meetings with their workers to identify possible issues ahead of
the refit.  
Identify A comprehensive workload audit is undertaken to clarify opportunities for improvements.   The owner discusses the proposed refit with the architect and builder and gets ideas for dealing with issues raised by workers.  
Assess A cost benefit analysis is undertaken to assess the work design options to manage the downsizing.   The owner, architect and builder jointly discuss the proposed refit and any worker issues directly with workers.   
Control A change management plan is developed and implemented to appropriately structure teams and improve systems of work. Training is provided to support the new work arrangements.   The building refit occurs. Workers are given training and supervision to become familiar with new layout and safe equipment use.  
Review The work redesign process is reviewed against the project aims by senior managers.   The owner checks with the workers that the refit has improved working conditions and efficiency and there are no new issues.  
Improve Following consultation, refinement of the redesign is undertaken if required.   Minor adjustments to the fit out are made if required.  

Principle 6: Good work design is applied along the supply chain and across the operational lifecycle.

  • Good work design should be applied along the supply chain in the design, manufacture, distribution, use and disposal of goods and the supply of services.
  • Work design is relevant at all stages of the operational life cycle, from start-up, routine operations, maintenance, downsizing and cessation of business operations.
  • New initiatives, technologies and change in organisations have implications for work design and should be considered.

Information: Supply chains are often made up of complex commercial or business relationships and contracts designed to provide goods or services. These are often designed to provide goods or services to a large, dominant business in a supply chain. The human and operational costs of poor design by a business can be passed up or down the supply chain.

Businesses in the supply chain can have significant influence over their supply chain partners’ work health and safety through the way they design the work.

Businesses may create risks and so they need to be active in working with their supply chains and networks to solve work health and safety problems and share practical solutions for example, for common design and manufacturing problems.

Health and safety risks can be created at any point along the supply chain, for example, loading and unloading causing time pressure for the transport business.

There can be a flow-on effect where the health and safety and business ‘costs’ of poor design may be passed down the supply chain. These can be prevented if businesses work with their supply chain partners to understand how contractual arrangements affect health and safety.

Procurement and contract officers can also positively influence their own organisation and others work health and safety throughout the supply chain by the good design of contracts. 

When designing contractual arrangements businesses could consider ways to support good work design safety outcomes by:

  • setting clear health and safety expectations for their supply chain partners, for example through the use of codes of conduct or quality standards
  • conducting walk through inspections, monitoring and comprehensive auditing of supply chain partners to check adherence to these codes and standards
  • building the capability of their own procurement staff to understand the impacts of contractual arrangements on their suppliers, and
  • consulting with their supply chain partners on the design of good work practices.

Information: The road transport industry is an example of the application of how this principle can help improve drivers’ health and safety and address issues arising from supply chain arrangements. For example, the National Heavy Vehicle Laws ‘chain of responsibility’ requires all participants in the road transport supply chain to take responsibility for driver work health and safety. Contracts must be designed to allow drivers to work reasonable hours, take sufficient breaks from driving and not have to speed to meet deadlines.

The design of products will strongly impact on both health and safety and business productivity throughout their lifecycles. At every stage there are opportunities to eliminate or minimise risks through good work design. The common product lifecycle stages are illustrated in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3 – common product lifecycle

A diagram of common product lifecycle

Information: For more information on the design of structures and of plant see ‘Safe design of structures’ and Managing the risks of plant in the workplace and other design guidance on the Safe Work Australia website.

The good work design principles are also relevant at all stages of the business life cycle. Some of these stages present particularly serious and complex work health and safety challenges such as during the rapid expansion or contraction of businesses. Systematic application of good work design principles during these times can achieve positive work health and safety outcomes.

View the Bureau of Meteorology case study on fatigue management.

New technology is often a key driver of change in work design. It has the potential to improve the quality of outputs, efficiency and safety of workers, however introducing new technology could also introduce new hazards and unforeseen risks. Good work design considers the impact of the new initiatives and technologies before they are introduced into the workplace and monitors their impact over time.

Information: When designing a machine for safe use, how the maintenance will be undertaken in the future should be considered.

In most workplaces the information and communication technology (ICT) systems are an integral part of all business operations. In practice these are often the main drivers of work changes but are commonly overlooked as sources of workplace risks. Opportunities to improve health and safety should always be considered when new ICT systems are planned and introduced.

A diagram of the WHAT principles
[Figure 4, The ICT Triad]

The HOW Principles

Principle 7: Engage decision makers and leaders

  • Work design or redesign is most effective when there is a high level of visible commitment, practical support and engagement by decision makers.
  • Demonstrating the long-term benefits of investing in good work design helps engage decision makers and leaders.
  • Practical support for good work design includes allocation of appropriate time and resources to undertake effective work design or redesign processes.

Information: Leaders are the key decision makers or those who influence the key decision makers. Leaders can be the owners of a business, directors of boards and senior executives.

Leaders can support good work design by ensuring the principles are appropriately included or applied, for example in:

  • key organisational policies and procedures
  • proposals and contracts for workplace change or design
  • managers’ responsibilities and as key performance indicators
  • business management systems and audit reports
  • organisational communications such as a standing item on leadership meeting agendas, and
  • the provision of sufficient human and financial resources.

Good work design, especially for complex issues will require adequate time and resources to consider and appropriately manage organisational and/or technological change. Like all business change, research shows leader commitment to upfront planning helps ensure better outcomes.

Managers and work health and safety advisors can help this process by providing their leaders with appropriate and timely information. This could include for example:

  • identifying design options which support both business outcomes and work health and safety objectives
  • assessing the risks and providing short and long term cost-benefit analysis of the recommended controls to manage these risks, and
  • identifying what decisions need to be taken, when and by whom to effectively design and implement the agreed changes.

Principle 8: Actively involve the people who do the work, including those in the supply chain and networks

  • Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must consult with their workers and others likely to be affected by work in accordance with the work health and safety laws.
  • Supply chain stakeholders should be consulted as they have local expertise about the work and can help improve work design for upstream and downstream participants.
  • Consultation should promote the sharing of relevant information and provide opportunities for workers to express their views, raise issues and contribute to decision making where possible.

Effective consultation and co-operation of all involved with open lines of communication, will ultimately give the best outcomes. Consulting with those who do the work not only makes good sense, it is required under the WHS laws.

Information: Under the model WHS laws (s47), a business owner must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with ‘workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by a matter relating to work health or safety.’ This can include a work design issue.

If more than one person has a duty in relation to the same matter, ‘each person with the duty must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter’ (model WHS laws s46).

Workers have knowledge about their own job and often have suggestions on how to solve a specific problem. Discussing design options with them will help promote their ownership of the changes. See Code of practice on consultation.

Businesses that operate as part of a supply chain should consider whether the work design and changes to the work design might negatively impact on upstream or downstream businesses. The supply chain partners will often have solutions to logistics problems which can benefit all parties.

Principle 9: Identify hazards, assess and control risks, and seek continuous improvement

  • A systematic risk management approach should be applied in every workplace.
  • Designing good work is part of the business processes and not a one-off event.
  • Sustainability in the long-term requires that designs or redesigns are continually monitored and adjusted to adapt to changes in the workplace so as to ensure feedback is provided and that new information is used to improve design.

Good work design should systematically apply the risk management approach to the workplace hazards and risks. See Principle 4 or more details.

Typically good work design will involve ongoing discussions with all stakeholders to keep refining the design options.  Each stage in the good work design process should have decision points for review of options and to consult further if these are not acceptable. This allows for flexibility to quickly respond to unanticipated and adverse outcomes.

Figure 5 outlines how the risk management steps can be applied in the design process

Continuous improvements in work health and safety can in part be achieved if the good work design principles are applied at business start up and whenever major organisational changes are contemplated. To be most effective, consideration of health and safety issues should be integrated into normal business risk management.

Figure 5 – Steps in the good work design process

A diagram of steps in the good work design process

Principle 10: Learn from experts, evidence, and experience

  • Continuous improvement in work design and hence work health and safety requires ongoing collaboration between the various experts involved in the work design process.
  • Various people with specific skills and expertise may need to be consulted in the design stage to fill any knowledge gaps. It is important to recognise the strengths and limitations of a single expert’s knowledge.
  • Near misses, injuries and illnesses are important sources of information about poor design.

Most work design processes will require collaboration and cooperation between internal and sometimes external experts. Internal advice can be sought from workers, line managers, technical support and maintenance staff, engineers, ICT systems designers, work health and safety advisors and human resource personnel.

Depending on the design issue, external experts may be required such as architects, engineers, ergonomists, occupational hygienists and psychologists.

Information: If you provide advice on work design options it is important to know and work within the limitations of your discipline’s knowledge and expertise. Where required make sure you seek advice and collaborate with other appropriate design experts.

For complex and high-risk projects, ideally a core group of the same people should remain involved during both the design and implementation phases with other experts brought in as necessary.

The type of expert will always depend on the circumstances. When assessing the suitability of an expert consider their qualifications, skills, relevant knowledge, technical expertise, industry experience, reputation, communication skills and membership of professional associations.

Information:  Is the consultant suitably qualified?
A suitably qualified person has the knowledge, skills and experience to provide advice on the specific design issue. You can usually check with the professional association to see if the consultant is certified or otherwise recognised by them to provide work design advice.

The decision to design or redesign work should be based on sound evidence. Typically this evidence will come from many sources such as both proactive and reactive indicators, information about a new technology or the business decisions to downsize, expand or restructure or to meet the requirements of supply chain partners.

Proactive and reactive indicators can also be used to monitor the effectiveness and efficiency of the design solution.

Information: Proactive indicators provide early information about the work system that can be used to prevent accidents or harm. These might include for example: key process variables such as temperature or workplace systems indicators such as the number of safety audits and inspections undertaken.

Reactive indicators are usually based on incidents that have already occurred. Examples include number and type of near misses and worker injury and illness rates.

Useful information about common work design problems and solutions can also often be obtained from:

  • work health and safety regulators
  • industry associations and unions
  • trade magazines and suppliers, and
  • specific research papers.
A diagram of the HOW principles
[Figure 5.1, Sources of Work Design Information]

[Good Work Design] Summary

The ten principles of good work design can be applied to help support better work health and safety outcomes and business productivity. They are deliberately high level and should be broadly applicable across the range of Australian businesses and workplaces. Just as every workplace is unique, so is the way each principle can be applied in practice.

When considering these principles in any work design also ensure you take into account your local jurisdictional work health and safety requirements.

[END: Good Work Design]

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Snapshot

Snapshot – Australian WHS

A snapshot: What is the Australian Work Health and Safety Act?

Nationally harmonised work health and safety laws

The WHS Act like that of most other jurisdictions is based on the ‘model’ WHS Act developed by Safe Work Australia. The aim is to provide all workers in Australia with the same standard of health and safety protection regardless of the work they do or where they work. A stronger national approach means greater certainty for businesses (particularly those operating across state borders) and over time reduced compliance costs for business. More consultation between businesses, workers and their representatives, along with clearer responsibilities will make workplaces safer for everyone. The harmonised work health and safety laws apply in the majority of jurisdictions. For more information about whether they apply in your jurisdiction check with your local regulator.

GUIDE TO THE MODEL WORK HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT, March 2016, ISBN 978-0-642-78409-4

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