Getting help to improve health and safety

This guidance aims to help employers improve their workplace health and safety. It may help them meet their occupational health and safety obligations.

Take a proactive approach

WorkSafe expects employers to take a proactive approach to improve health and safety. A proactive approach includes looking at ways to better identify and control hazards before they cause an incident, injury, illness or disease.

The ways of getting help outlined in this guidance include:

  • contacting WorkSafe and unions and employer, trade and industry associations
  • developing the necessary occupational health and safety (OHS) expertise and knowledge in-house
  • employing or engaging a suitably qualified person to provide OHS advice

Help from WorkSafe

The following information provides details about help available from WorkSafe.

Advisory Service

The WorkSafe Advisory Service provides a range of free services. These include:

  • answering general OHS inquiries
  • providing guidance to employers about their legal obligations
  • providing advice to employees, including what to do if they are injured
  • providing advice to employers on WorkSafe policies
  • providing advice on WorkSafe premiums, return to work and rehabilitation
  • providing advice about WorkSafe publications
  • providing guidance about licences to perform high-risk work and construction induction

Inspectors

WorkSafe inspectors help employers with workplace health and safety and help them comply with OHS laws. Inspectors can:

  • provide advice on employer and employee responsibilities and rights
  • supply practical guidance on hazard identification and risk controls
  • promote consultation between employers and employees in health and safety matters

Inspectors inspect workplaces to ensure they are complying with OHS laws. During their inspections, WorkSafe inspectors may issue improvement, prohibition or non-disturbance notices or give directions. They can also issue infringement notices or official warnings for certain offences and carry out other enforcement and compliance activities.

Members of the public and people in a workplace can ask WorkSafe to send an inspector to attend a workplace to enquire into an alleged failure to follow Victoria's OHS laws. The nature and circumstances of the request may determine whether an inspector will attend.

More information about inspectors and enforcement is available on the WorkSafe website.

Publications

WorkSafe has publications designed to help workplaces improve their health and safety and to help employers meet their OHS legal duties and responsibilities.

Some publications target specific industries and occupations. Others focus on broader topics relevant to all industries, such as:

  • consultation
  • risk identification
  • managing health and safety
  • WorkSafe policies and procedures

Publications produced by WorkSafe and available on the WorkSafe website include the following:

Injury hotspots

Industry-specific information that pinpoints where people get hurt at work. Injury hotspots provide practical solutions to help make workplaces safe.

Safety alerts

Short guidance material that describes a work practice or something at work that is dangerous and needs immediate corrective action.

Guidance notes

Short guidance material that provides health and safety information on particular topics.

Tools

Checklists, worksheets and other items to help complete a task.

Educational materials

Supporting documents such as presentations, posters and information sheets on particular topics.

Industry guides

Short booklets that provide general introductory information on a given health and safety topic in an industry.

Health and safety solutions

Short safety solutions for a particular topic.

Forms

Documents that need to be completed and returned to WorkSafe or a related organisation. For example, applying for a licence.

Further publications, including handbooks

Guidance materials that will help employers understand OHS requirements. For example, handbooks, WorkSafe annual reports and summaries of prosecutions.

Compliance codes

Documents designed to help employers comply with the law.

WorkSafe positions

Short documents that provide WorkSafe's interpretations of specific terms and requirements under OHS law. For example, How WorkSafe applies the law in relation to reasonably practicable.

Laws and regulations

Information about health and safety Acts and regulations and your responsibilities.

OHS consulting service for small businesses

Victorian small and medium businesses with a WorkCover insurance policy are eligible for a free OHS consultancy through WorkSafe's OHS Essentials program. An independent OHS consultant will visit the workplace, help identify hazards and provide a tailored safety action plan. The consultant will also provide a follow-up service to check on progress with the plan.

The consultant will explain the employer's obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and provide an overview of obligations under the Victorian Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013.

Apply for WorkSafe Victoria's OHS Essentials program on the WorkSafe website or by calling the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.

WorkWell Toolkit

The WorkWell Toolkit is a free online tool. It helps employers reduce mental injury and promote safe and mentally healthy workplaces.

The toolkit uses a step-by-step approach to support workplace leaders. It helps them make improvements to create environments where employees can thrive.

The toolkit provides information and resources from trusted organisations such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and more. As well, the toolkit has information and advice tailored to your industry type and business size. It covers topics such as:

  • role clarity
  • fatigue
  • respect
  • working alone or in isolation
  • change management

If you are a workplace leader, reduce the risk of mental injury and help create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Sign up for the WorkWell Toolkit today.

Help from unions 

Unions provide a range of OHS support to their members. This support includes advice, representation, information and training. Unions also encourage employers and employees to consult each other to improve health and safety in the workplace.

Health and safety representatives (HSRs) can also seek assistance from union officials to help resolve OHS issues. For more information, see the WorkSafe publication, Employee representation.

Authorised representatives of registered employee organisations such as unions have workplace entry rights. They can enter workplaces to inquire into suspected breaches of the OHS Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations). For more information, see WorkSafe's guidance, Guide to right of entry by authorised representatives.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) OHS Unit supports affiliated unions and their members. It provides advice and assistance to unions and their members, including training, information and policies. The unit helps coordinate health and safety campaigns and works with WorkSafe to improve standards, policies and programs. The unit has a website for OHS representatives. Funded by WorkSafe, the website has information on legislation and hazards. It also offers a free subscription to the fortnightly electronic newsletter, SafetyNet.

Help from employer, trade and industry groups

Many employer, trade and industry associations provide OHS support to their members. Services include advice, information, consultation, representation and training. The associations also promote and support workplace consultation between employers and employees to improve workplace health and safety.

Employer, trade and industry associations work with WorkSafe to improve standards, policies and programs.

Contact your employer, trade or industry association to see how they can help you.

Services and support from WorkSafe agents

WorkSafe Agents provide a range of OHS prevention services and support to workplaces. Services include risk management and return-to-work advice. Contact your agent for more information.

For a list of WorkSafe Agents, see the insurance and premium section on the WorkSafe website.

Build in-house OHS expertise

Some employers control OHS risks at their workplace by getting help from sources outlined in this guidance. Other employers may choose to build in-house OHS skills. In the long term, and depending on the workplace circumstances, using in-house OHS skills is a good way to improve workplace health and safety. Methods to improve in-house OHS skills include the following:

The size of the organisation and its resources will play a role in how it provides training. Training can take place in-house or through tertiary institutions and TAFE colleges, unions, employer associations and private training providers. More information about OHS training service providers is available on the WorkSafe website or contact the WorkSafe Advisory Service on 1800 136 089.

Employing or engaging a suitably qualified person

At times, there may be no-one at the workplace with the right skills or knowledge to identify and control hazards in the workplace. This is when employers should employ or engage a person who is suitably qualified in OHS to provide advice concerning the health and safety of employees.

Examples of when an employer might consider employing or engaging a suitably qualified person to provide advice on OHS include:

  • during periodic OHS reviews of business operations
  • when developing and implementing systems for the long-term management of OHS
  • when setting up OHS consultation and issue-resolution structures for the workplace
  • when planning to change the work premises, plant, substances or materials for use at work
  • when changes to legislation may affect the employer's industry, workplace, systems or processes
  • before changing work practices and systems of work
  • when setting up new operations or projects
  • before major shut down, decommissioning or demolition of premises or plant
  • when new OHS information becomes available from an authoritative source
  • when a hazardous exposure or incident, injury or illness reveals that risk control measures are not adequate
  • when an adverse result of environmental or health monitoring indicates that risk control measures are inadequate
  • when managing complex issues related to psychological health, such as bullying and stress

Employee or contractor?

Employers may need further advice to deal with health and safety risks at the workplace. In these cases, the next step is to decide whether to directly employ a person or engage them under a contract for services or another arrangement.

For example, if issues affecting employee health and safety are ongoing and complex, you might decide to employ an OHS coordinator. The OHS coordinator will provide advice on OHS matters in your workplace.

Alternatively, some employers may choose to bring in an external consultant on a one-off or as-needed basis.

The choice will depend on the nature and extent of the hazards and risks in the workplace. If you employ a person, you may still need to bring in other consultants at various times. No single OHS professional will have the answers to all problems.

Any person employed in-house or engaged as an external consultant to provide OHS advice must be suitably qualified.

Who is a suitably qualified person?

A 'suitably qualified' person is someone who has the knowledge, skills and experience to provide advice on the issues impacting the health and safety of employees.

The advice must reflect the current state of knowledge on OHS issues so employers can rely on the advice when controlling risks in the workplace. A suitably qualified person must be able to provide advice about:

  • the process of identifying hazards
  • implementing controls to eliminate or reduce the assessed risks
  • monitoring and reviewing controls

Assessing a suitably qualified person

The type of person required will depend on the type of workplace and its hazards. The following information lists matters to consider when assessing whether a person has the skills, knowledge and experience to be suitably qualified. Whether you are employing a person or engaging a consultant, take all relevant matters into account:

External consultants

External consultants can advise on a broad range of services. These services include the following:

Consult HSRs and safety committees

Employers should consult HSRs and health and safety committees when appointing consultants. Consultation will give HSRs and health and safety committees an opportunity to discuss their concerns. It will also encourage further co-operation and support and may help decide the type of help required. If there are no HSRs, consult the employees involved in the issue or problem.

In some cases, you may need to engage more than one type of consultant, particularly in complex or high-risk situations.

There will usually be many consultants able to provide the service you need. Make inquiries with several to find the right consultant to suit your needs and workplace. A list of OHS professionals and their contact information is available under the heading, Where to find consultants.

Issues to consider

As well as considering the matters listed, employers should address the following issues when engaging a consultant:

Letting an OHS consultant know what you want

No matter what approach you adopt, it is important to have a written agreement in place before a consultant starts work. To get the best results from engaging a consultant, consider the following points:

Receive the service you need

A well-prepared written proposal, along with regular review and monitoring while the consultant is doing their work, will help ensure you receive the service you need.

Once the consultant has finished work, the employer should consider the following questions:

  • Has a practical, sensible solution to the problem been provided?
  • Has the consultant provided something over the top, for example, lots of useless paperwork? If so, ask the consultant for an explanation and to advise whether there is a better, simplified alternative.
  • Has the consultant provided good follow-up support? For example, has the consultant made sure any recommendations have been properly understood?
  • Has the consultant adequately answered any questions about implementing recommendations?

Legal issues

Engaging or employing a person for help and advice does not guarantee employers meet their legal duties and responsibilities under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

Employers cannot transfer or delegate legal duties and responsibilities to a consultant. If an employer is found to be in breach of their duties, it is not a defence to have relied on the advice or recommendations of a consultant.

For these reasons, it is important that employers who employ or engage a person for advice stay actively involved in OHS issues, including monitoring and reviewing risk controls.

Where to find consultants

Help from other professionals

Sometimes other professionals, such as dangerous goods specialists, psychologists or architects, are necessary to address specific OHS issues, such as the design of plant, buildings and structures. Contact these professionals through their professional association or body.