Prevent and manage risk of physical injury in your small business

How to identify physical health and safety hazards and implement effective risk management processes.



How this helps your business

When employees feel physically safe, they enjoy their jobs more, perform better, and are more committed to their employer.

Keeping records of any safety issues, how much of a risk they are, and how you are fixing these problems shows your employees that you care about their safety. Keeping records also makes it easier to improve how you're managing occupational health and safety over time.

Physical injuries often have an effect on mental health as well. The more support your employees have, the more likely they are to get help for mental health issues, and return to work if they have a long absence.

Key stats and facts


Over 40% of workers' compensation claims are related to manual handling injuries. 

Muscular stress while handling objects was the leading cause of physical injury.

Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common work-related condition in Australia.

Safework Australia, 2020 Lifting, pushing and pulling (manual handling)

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Damien is a WorkSafe inspector. He helps to demystify how to find safety issues in your workplace and how to work with your employees to use their expertise to solve problems. He talks about the best options for reducing risks.

Damien encourages employers to use their previous industry experience to solve problems and to use their networks to seek advice.

The same principles that Damien talks about can be used for workplace risks to mental health.

It is important to remember that the physical and mental health risks in your workplace are closely linked and can have an impact on your employees. Find out how the importance of physical safety affects your employees' mental health and wellbeing through the WorkSafe Victoria videos below.

How to do your own inspection - Fix the problems

Hazardous manual handling - Is the work safe? Do I feel safe?

Step 2

Consult your staff

There are many ways you can talk with your employees about managing risks in your workplace, including:

  • having OHS as an agenda item at your regular meetings. These may be 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings or any way people in your organisation communicate with each other
  • one-on-one discussions with employees
  • when you casually walk around your workplace with your staff
  • through your health and safety representatives (HSRs), if you have them

Step 3

Identify the risks

There are a number of ways to find safety issues. Some common ones you could try are:

  • looking and talking when you are inspecting the workplace with your employees
  • injury or safety data from organisations such as WorkSafe Victoria, industry associations and unions, manufacturers and suppliers
  • testing and measuring things like noise, dust, hazardous substances, manual handling processes
  • surveys of employees and others at your workplace
  • analysing records such as the injury register, incident reports, near misses

Review the physical injuries or 'near misses' you have had

Keeping a record of injuries or near misses allows you to review the risks in your workplace. You will be able to see trends and you can then work on developing solutions to stop them happening again. This record of injuries can be as simple as a diary or a more sophisticated online injury recording tool.

Step 4

Assess the risks

After you've made your list of possible safety issues, you need to decide how serious they are and which ones need the most urgent attention.

Sometimes, an event can trigger the need to review your risks. For example, when you:

  • start a new business from scratch
  • buy a new business
  • appoint an insolvency administrator because your business has gone into administration
  • change what type of work you do, or make changes to the work environment
  • buy new or used equipment, or hire equipment
  • start using new substances and processes

You might also review your risks:

  • after an injury or near miss has happened
  • if an employee brings up a safety concern
  • if new OHS legislation is coming out and you want to be ready for it

Risk checklist

  • Take a close look at each item on your list. What could happen if things go wrong?
  • Are we talking about scratches and bruises, or could someone be seriously injured or even killed?
  • Is it an everyday thing, or something that only comes up now and then, giving you more time to find a solution?
  • Are there things you can do right now, as a short-term fix, while you work out a permanent solution?
  • Once you've worked out which issues have the greatest potential to cause injury or disease, or are a risk to public safety, mark them as your high priority issues. Then, rank them in order from highest to lowest priority.
  • Your list should be regularly reviewed and updated. You and your workers need to continually monitor every aspect of your workplace and make sure any potential new safety issues are immediately identified.

Step 5

Manage the risks

When you've worked out which safety issues are most urgent, you need to start immediately on the most important step of all – fixing the problems.

Once you've put a solution in place, remember to check back to see whether it's working the way you imagined. You might want to set a date for this with a reminder.

Remember, you can take the same approach for risks to mental health.

Fix the problems

  • Your first aim should be to totally remove the problem.
  • For example, if the issue is a hazardous chemical, try to find a safe alternative to the chemical. If there is a slipping or tripping hazard in your workplace, see if it can be removed. If a task is dangerous, look for different ways to complete the task.
  • If it's not possible to totally remove a hazard, you need to find ways to control it. You might have to change the way certain jobs are done, change work procedures, or perhaps give employees protective equipment.
  • You'll often find there are simple solutions to many of the risks in your workplace. Most of them will be low cost, and some will cost nothing at all. Of course, sometimes there are no simple solutions.
  • Check our publications, alerts and guidance notes for your industry/topic and see if there's a solution to the problem.
  • Get help from associations or groups that are related to your particular industry. They might have come across a similar problem before and found a way to fix it.
  • Talk to other people in your industry to see how they've handled similar problems.

Step 6

Review and keep improving

Once you've put processes in place to manage risks, you need to check on them regularly to make sure they're working as planned. WorkSafe Victoria has information to help you make long-term, sustainable improvements to safety in your workplace.

Remember, you can take the same approach for risks to mental health.

More information

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.