How to support managers to improve workplace health and safety

How well does your organisation assist managers to reduce absences and improve workplace health and safety?

Managers play a crucial role in these areas, so it's vital they're given appropriate support. Below, I outline three cases that show what some employers are doing right - and wrong.

Equip managers to reduce absences

The Australian Red Cross Blood Service takes a number of steps to hold managers accountable for reducing absence rates, its national WHS manager Nan Austin told OHS Alert.

Its absence procedure, for example, requires managers to immediately contact workers who have called in sick.

Austin says it's important for employers to show workers they care, and that "even one absence is important".

"The pressure is on the managers to prevent injuries or to minimise the absence upon those injuries," she says.

Managers are also provided with detailed job descriptions of their subordinates, which list both the physical and psychological demands of each role.

The company's 2014 employee engagement survey found 88 per cent of its 4000 workers felt they could openly discuss safety issues with their managers, while a similar proportion believed the organisation was a safe place to work.

Read the full story here on OHS Alert. (This article has been unlocked for non-subscribers to read).

Highlight importance of risk assessments

An employer's OHS conviction highlights the need to properly train managers in the importance of risk assessments, and how to conduct them.

In this case, an employee was seriously injured after being struck by falling coal, and the employer found his manager had identified a hazard, but failed to tell anyone about it.

The trial judge said in the absence of a warning from his manager, it "wasn't surprising that [the worker] would have thought there was nothing untoward about the worksite and might not have his mind on potential dangers".

(OHS Alert subscribers can read the full story here, or you can start a trial subscription to gain access.)

Ensure communication is appropriate

Employers should also ensure managers have appropriate communication skills for all their dealings with employees, another case shows.

This one involved a manager who sent a worker "heavy-handed" emails after she took a rare day off work.

The employee had sent a text message to one of her managers saying she couldn't attend work the next day because she was interstate, but would make up the time when she returned.

The next day, a manager sent the worker an email stating she had failed to lodge a leave form for her absence, and was required to do so. The worker replied that her absence was beyond her control, and she would lodge the form when she got back to work.

At work the following day, the worker received an email from a second manager requiring her to attend a meeting, and inviting her to bring a support person because the matter was "serious" and might result in termination of her employment.

The worker had a panic attack, and subsequently claimed workers' compensation.

Hearing her claim, the commissioner said the employer's actions weren't reasonable, "not even arguably so".

"There is no evidence that the worker had a history of absenteeism without prior notice. Nor is there any evidence that the worker's absence caused the employer any particular hardship, loss or even inconvenience," he said.

The emails were "totally disproportionate to the seriousness of the worker's transgression", he found.

(OHS Alert subscribers can read the full story here, or you can start a trial subscription to gain access.)

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