Are you a safety professional thinking of emigrating from the UK to Australia? Well, I’ve done it and here’s my BREXIT special guide! In this 45-minute video, The Safety Artisan looks at the similarities and differences between British and Australian safety practices. This should also help Aussies thinking of heading over to work the UK and even, dare I say it, to the EU!
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].
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
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:
Why good work design is important
What should be considered in good work design, and
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:
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
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
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:
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
the plant, equipment, materials and substances used, and
the vehicles, buildings, structures that are workplaces.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
work design prevents deaths, injuries and illnesses and their associated costs,
improves worker motivation and engagement and in the long-term improves
work fosters innovation, quality and efficiencies through effective and
work helps manage risks to business sustainability and profitability by making
work processes more efficient and effective and by improving product and
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
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.
The WHAT Principles
What should be considered by those with design
Principle 4: Good
work design addresses physical, biomechanical, cognitive and psychosocial
characteristics of work, together with the needs and capabilities of the people
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.
characteristics should be systematically considered when work is designed,
redesigned or the hazards and risks are assessed.
work characteristics should be considered in combination and one characteristic
should not be considered in isolation.
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
Table 1 – steps in good work design for large and small
Good design steps
In a large business that is downsizing
In a small business that is undergoing a refit
Senior management make their commitment
to good work design explicit ahead of downsizing and may hire external
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.
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
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
A cost benefit analysis is undertaken to
assess the work design options to manage the downsizing.
architect and builder jointly discuss the proposed refit and any worker
issues directly with workers.
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.
building refit occurs. Workers are given training and supervision to become
familiar with new layout and safe equipment use.
The work redesign process is reviewed
against the project aims by senior managers.
owner checks with the workers that the refit has improved working conditions
and efficiency and there are no new issues.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Actively involve the people who do the work, including those in the supply
chain and networks
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
stakeholders should be consulted as they have local expertise about the work
and can help improve work design for upstream and downstream participants.
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.
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
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
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.
information about common work design problems and solutions can also often be
work health and safety
industry associations and
trade magazines and suppliers,
specific research papers.
[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.