How to build an effective OHS management system

Around the world, every 15 seconds, 153 workers have a work related accident and one of them dies.

There are many considerations that need to be taken into account when building a safe working environment. Making sure you give this responsibility the attention it needs is absolutely crucial. It saves time, money, and most importantly, lives.

But knowing how best to go about managing, minimising and mitigating risks in the workplace isn’t without its challenges.

Bringing some clarity and structure to what can otherwise be an overwhelming task starts with the establishment of thorough processes that underpin all of your business’s health and safety efforts. Many organisations find the most effective and manageable way to do this is by building an OHS management system compliant with ISO standards.

OHS in Australian workplaces

There’s a lot riding on getting your approach to health and safety right. While the worker fatality rate in Australia has decreased by 53% since 2009, there is still a great deal of room for improvement.

When Australian workers are injured, it is most commonly as a result of strains and sprains from lifting, pushing or carrying something heavy. Second to this falls, trips and slips also often cause serious injury, and can occur when tripping hazards are left in walkways, workers complete their job from a height or similar. Although less visible, mental health issues from experiences like bullying and overwork can be detrimental to the wellbeing of workers.

The ongoing pandemic has brought about an entirely new portfolio of hazards in the workplace, and in 2020 alone 1,222 COVID-related workers’ compensation claims were lodged across Australia – 974 of which were accepted.

The way employers go about managing all of the above can be the difference between having a workplace with healthy, happy and safe staff, and one where employees feel mistreated and at risk. The former is essential for employers looking to retain employees in a competitive environment and is an important component of a positive work culture which supports employees in reaching their full potential.

To find out how to get to that point, keep reading.

OHS management systems

Even though organisations meet the requirements of the legislation that governs workplace health and safety, many decide to take extra measures and invest in OHS management systems – why is this the case?

OHS management systems are designed to help organisations establish suitable processes for keeping their employees out of harm’s way in the workplace. They provide a coordinated and systematic approach for identifying, minimising, better managing and mitigating health and safety risks.

With effective occupational health and safety management systems, businesses can form maintainable and effective frameworks for ensuring their continued compliance with Australian OHS legislation and relevant standards – both Australian and international. An example is ISO 45001, the internationally recognised standard for occupational health and safety, with which over 38,500 companies across the globe are already compliant.

This systematised approach makes the overall process of managing OHS easier and less cumbersome, and improves an organisation’s ability to confidently keep their employees safe while they’re at work. This is not only done through targeted preventative measures, but also the swift resolution of issues as they arise.

Any business which invests in establishing effective OHS management systems will experience both short and long-term benefits, including:

  • Reducing the rate of workplace illnesses and injuries. This keeps staff safer and leads to less injury-related costs for the company;
  • Ensuring health and safety accountabilities and responsibilities are clear and understood organisation-wide, even as time passes and the company goes through changes;
  • Improved business reputation and public perception, as your organisation displays a strong commitment to protecting the wellbeing of employees and can demonstrate it’s meeting legal requirements;
  • Making occupational health and safety a priority helps employees feel safe and valued in the workplace, which can improve employee morale and motivation. When employees are happier and healthier, they are also usually more productive;
  • Identifying opportunities for saving on costs. When developing their OHS management system, organisations are able to pinpoint inefficiencies and areas where improvements could be made. This helps make processes safer, and gives them the ability to strategically identify ways to save on costs – without sacrificing the health and safety of their workforce;
  • Improved ability to measure and monitor OHS performance. When systems are purposeful, well thought out and systematic, it becomes far easier for organisations to review their progress towards clear goals and make any necessary changes.

Building an effective OHS management systems

If you’ve decided to work towards introducing an OHS management system, there are essentially six steps you need to follow to get you there.

1. Safety plan

A safety plan forms part of your business plan. It’s used to analyse current and potential OHS risks for your company, which gives you the information needed to effectively eradicate and control key safety hazards over time.

For a safety plan to be successfully followed, all employees must understand the risks, how to manage these risks and their own safety obligations. It takes united and harmonious efforts from all members of an organisation to achieve the best outcomes, which are of course those that lead to the workplace becoming safer.

2. Policies, procedures and processes

The policies, procedures and processes you put in place now govern and form the foundation of all the work you do to improve OHS in your workplace. They need to be clear, detailed and kept up-to-date. They must establish safety expectations, and include sections for records, incident reporting and similar. Tip: Using cloud based systems can dramatically increase the ease of communication of OHS requirements and the level of buy-in of staff in the OHS system.

3. Training and induction

A business can introduce all of the policies and procedures they want, but if staff aren’t suitably trained in how to implement expectations, these efforts will fall flat. For OHS management systems to be effective, all employees need to be provided with sufficient training that gives them the skills and knowledge to perform their job safely and in accordance with the requirements of their workplace and for the understanding and competence of employees to be properly assessed. .

4. Monitoring

Managing risks relies on businesses having a lean system in place for monitoring them over time. The higher the risk the more frequent and detailed these efforts need to be. New risk assessments may also need to be carried out if there’s a change in operations, such as new workstations being added, or if an incident occurs as a follow up to prevent it from happening again. An effective OHS system incorporates mechanisms to easily conduct these risk assessments on a regular basis.

5. Supervision

There needs to be adequate supervision of employees to ensure they are all meeting their health and safety obligations. This includes speaking with staff to make sure any safety concerns they have are looked into seriously and suitably and meeting regularly to communicate new and changing requirements..

6. Reporting

Safety reporting needs to be periodic, thorough and accurate. By completing reporting at all organisational levels, management can get the best picture of where current OHS systems are at and how they can be improved. Cloud based systems can significantly improve the timeliness and ease of reporting through real time dashboards and the like.

Challenges solved by OHS management systems

While an OHS management system can require an investment of time, money and allocation of resources, it can also help businesses solve various challenges in the workplace.

  • Keeping employees out of harm’s way: with OHS management systems organisations set up processes for proactively taking action against safety risks, which helps them prevent workplace injuries and illnesses.
  • Building a culture of safety: safety systems get management and staff working towards common safety goals, and understanding the importance of doing this. Over time, this shared commitment towards better managing OHS risks can help build a stronger culture of safety.
  • Establishing consistent processes across all operations: with strong underlying OHS systems governing all of your safety activities, you can improve consistency across all organisational levels and locations.

Using cloud-based systems to build your OHS management system

The cloud is revolutionising the way businesses manage their various systems, including those relating to occupational health and safety.

If your business is still relying on traditional paper-based systems, it’s likely you’re being slowed down by unnecessarily clunky processes. Many companies are now making the transition to cloud-based systems, as they can eliminate inefficiencies, automate workflows and streamline all processes – and reap the benefits.

Many employees are now working from home or looking for more flexible work arrangements. The cloud makes it easier and less time-consuming to effectively manage, monitor and report on safety risks, as all data is securely stored online and can be seamlessly accessed and updated. Whether employees are in the office, on a worksite or working from home, they can access OHS information.

If you think cloud-based systems could be a great addition to your workplace, see our article on how to convince your boss to get on board with cloud-based systems.

Speak with an OHS consultant

For more information, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of Australia-wide occupational health and safety consultants.

At ICS, we also specialise in a variety of other services and ISO standards, including ISO 14001ISO 9001, integrated management systemsISO internal audits and more.

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