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Successful safety for SMBs

Most business owners recognise the importance of good Occupational Health and Safety practice, writes Ashley Seigel.

Whether it be from a legal, ethical, or cost perspective – ensuring the health and safety of personnel is essential to the operation of a successful business. The cornerstone to practicing successful OHS is the business’s OHS or Safety Plan. Often, this will be first thing that a workplace inspector on a site visit will ask to see. A strong OHS plan will detail how the business will meet its obligations as applicable to the business activities. The idea of developing an OHS plan can seem daunting especially for smaller businesses. Below are some tips for success.

Include as Part of Your Overall Business Plan
An OHS plan does not need to be a stand-alone document. Most businesses are required to submit business plans to secure investment funding or financial support from banks. Including your OHS plan as part of this document helps to keep everything in one place as well as embedding OHS considerations directly into your business model.

Understand Your Risks and Obligations
Your OHS plan needs to address any potential risks associated with your business activities both within the business itself affecting employees or contractors and externally to the public. The plan should detail how the business will identify and reduce risk as well as meet its legislative obligations.
For example, if your business activities require the use of electric hand tools, consideration should be given as to how the tools will be maintained and operated in a safe manner. This would be explained in your OHS plan.

Simple and Relevant
The size of plan itself will vary from business to business. Generally, the more complex the business activities, the more complex the OHS plan. It is important to keep the plan relevant to your business activities and easily understood. Some plans could be as little as a few pages.
Avoid using technical jargon and limit the content to simply explaining how the business will manage risks and meet its obligations. A good test of this is to ensure that the everyday workers employed by the business can read and understand the plan.

Subject Matter Expert Review
The benefit of having a OHS expert review the plan and provide you feedback is unmeasurable. Not only can they provide guidance on improvements and inclusions, they can provide extra reassurance that the plan helps the business meet its obligations. A professional OHS consultant can provide this service.
Worth noting is that state regulators such as Worksafe Victoria often provide free OHS consulting services to small and medium size businesses. Additionally, regulators will always be willing to provide guidance and advice over the phone.

Work to the Plan
Often, with evolving business activities or even the pressure of the day to day running of a business, many OHS plans become simply documents that sit on a shelf or in a computer. Although the content might be acceptable, it doesn’t actually reflect what occurs within the business.
It’s important to ensure that the key elements of the plan are understood by those within the business and that the commitments within the plan are being met. Ensuring a robust on-boarding or induction process as well as frequent compliance checks against the plan are integral in ensuring its successful implementation. This is simply a process of asking “are we doing what we said we were going to do”.
It’s also important to ensure the plan is reviewed and updated at least annually or when there are significant changes within the business.

Ashley Seigel is an OHS professional with over ten years’ experience in the mining, construction, and oil and gas sectors. He has worked for a diverse range of industry employers both in Australia and internationally, as well as providing consultancy advice. He holds qualifications in Work Health and Safety and Accident Investigation.

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