Design your workplace safe, says Safe Work Australia chair

Every year throughout October, Australians observe National Safe Work Month, which is a time for workers and employers to commit to building a safe and healthy workplace. Diane Smith-Gander, Safe Work Australia Chair and non-executive director of AGL Energy and Wesfarmers Limited, spoke about what the month means to her.

“I was deeply affected by my father’s injury in a workplace accident when I was a child, it took me a long time to come to terms with it. It took my experience as a business leader to genuinely understand exactly how much poor work health and safety doesn’t only affect workplaces, individuals and families,” Diane said.

“The impact of poor work health and safety is borne by the entire Australian community – work-related injury and disease costs the Australian community $ 61.8 billion each year.

“And while that figure is staggering, it doesn’t even touch on the immeasurable cost of grief and trauma for workers and their families.”

Diane explained that leaders have a vital role to play when it comes to making workplaces healthy and safe.

“A good leader is curious, gets out into the field and talks to the people actually doing the work, and has no pre-conceived notions about what the right answer to a problem is,” she said.

“And the important thing to understand is that leaders can be at all levels of an organisation. Whether they are senior executives, site managers, frontline supervisors or health and safety representatives, they can all influence the attitudes and behaviours of others and fundamentally guide the organisation’s safety posture.”

We asked Diane what workplaces can do to build work health and safety capability throughout the organisation.

“First, design your workplace safe,” Diane replied.

“Well-designed work is inherently safer because designing work well means eliminating hazards and risks before they even enter the workplace, incorporate effective risk control measures and design-in efficiencies.”

Safe Work Australia publishes a handbook that provides ten principles of good work design that can be applied to any workplace or organisation. It describes how design can be used to set up the workplace, working environment and work tasks to protect the health and safety of workers, taking into account their range of abilities and vulnerabilities.

“Second, remember that cheap equipment, machinery and materials that break easily can be dangerous and are expensive to fix,” said Diane.

“Investing in equipment that is designed safely – like a tractor with built-in rollover protection – protects workers from harm from the outset.

“And there is an efficiency-gain here, because quality materials also last longer and are cheaper to maintain and update.”

Diane also emphasised the importance of maintaining equipment, machinery and plant.

“Damaged or poorly maintained equipment like broken ladders, split electrical cables and frayed ropes can cause serious injuries or fatalities. Similarly, inefficient and outdated systems and equipment can become a hazard to physical or mental health.

“Make sure your teams can report malfunctions and breakdowns easily and that you maintain an equipment register.”

A forth step organisations can take toward building a healthy and safe workplace is making sure workers know how to use equipment safely, by providing training and risk assessments and ensuring safety is a part of everyday work.

“Make work health and safety part of your daily conversations and involve everyone – especially those actually doing the work.”

Diane explained that engaging workers in decision-making, encouraging and valuing their participation is critical for developing a workplace culture that ensures work is healthy, safe and productive.

“It’s crucial that supervisors and managers can feel confident that they can call a stop to work if anything is not safe – that they won’t experience repercussions for stopping unsafe work.”

Finally, Diane emphasises that there is no end to a safety journey.

“Making sure your workplace is healthy and safe is a continuous cycle of improvement.

“Are your current risk controls working? Are there new or emerging risks? Have you positioned your work health and safety resources where there is the greatest potential for reducing harm?

“A workplace doesn’t just become safe – environments, machines, process and people are always changing and any approach to safety must be responsive to this ever-changing environment.”

Diane said that everyone at all levels throughout an organisation can commit to safety, get involved, and make safety part of routine business and always review.

“This October I hope that every workplace gets involved in National Safe Work Month.

“It’s easy to do – visit the National Safe Work Month website, run a safety initiative in your workplace using the campaign kit, and share your initiative using the hashtag #safeworkmonth so that businesses and workers across Australia can benefit from your knowledge and experience.

“This year’s safety month campaign acknowledges that everyone can contribute to building a healthy and safe workplace, and that sharing safety knowledge and experience can benefit everyone.”

Diane Smith-Gander is Chair of Safe Work Australia and Asbestos & Eradication Council, a non-executive director for AGL Energy, Wesfarmers Limited, a board member of Keystart Loans, Henry Davis York, CEDA; and immediate past president of Chief Executive Women.

Diane Smith-Gander is Chair of Safe Work Australia and Asbestos & Eradication Council, a non-executive director for AGL Energy, Wesfarmers Limited, a board member of Keystart Loans, Henry Davis York, CEDA; and immediate past president of Chief Executive Women.

To enter, you must run a new and creative safety initiative in your workplace during October and tell us all about it. You can tell your story through video, photos and stories at

Entries will be judged on how well the initiative shares safety knowledge throughout the workplace, empowers staff at all levels to make good safety choices, and demonstrates an enduring approach to good work health and safety.

There is a campaign kit available on the safety month website that contains a range of materials, information and ideas to help you do this.

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(Safe Work Australia Press Release)

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