Worker safety vulnerability can be measured along four dimensions:
- level of hazards faced by the worker;
- workplace- or organization-level protection and policies;
- worker awareness of occupational hazards and rights and responsibilities; and
- worker empowerment to participate in injury prevention.
Younger workers and, particularly, those who are working new jobs and temporary jobs are highly vulnerable along the last two dimensions – awareness and empowerment. When you are new to a job, you may not be aware of all of the hazards. You may also be eager to impress or hesitant to ask questions. Unfortunately, these things make you vulnerable. It is of vital importance that you ask questions, look around you, learn about the hazards and learn how to stay safe. You can’t just assume that you will be told everything you need to know, or assume that if you’re not explicitly warned about something that it isn’t dangerous.
By being aware of the hazards and your rights and responsibilities, and by empowering yourself to take charge of your own safety by asking questions and speaking up, you will significantly reduce your risk of injury. No job, no paycheck, is worth risking your health or safety for. OHS vulnerability in four areas: hazard exposure; workplace policies and procedures; worker awareness of hazards and OHS rights and responsibilities; and worker empowerment to participate in injury and illness prevention. Using the measure, a worker is considered most vulnerable to injury and illness when exposed to hazards in the workplace in combination with inadequate workplace policies and procedures, low OHS awareness and/or a workplace culture that discourages worker participation in injury and illness prevention.
Occupational Health & Safety Act sets out responsibilities for employers and supervisors:
- Ensuring equipment, materials and protective devices are provided and maintained
- Letting workers know about any potential or actual dangers in the workplace
- Informing, instructing, supervising workers to protect their health and safety
- Hiring supervisors that are competent
- Assisting and co-operating with joint health and safety committees or worker representatives
- Taking every precaution reasonable for the protection of a worker
- Ensuring that workers comply with provisions of the OHS
Workers have rights and responsibilities under OH&S as well. These include:
- the right to know about hazards and how to prevent injuries caused by them
- the right to participate in health and safety activities in the workplace
- the right to refuse work that is dangerous or unsafe to you or others
- the responsibility to use machinery and equipment in the way in which they are trained
- the responsibility to report hazards to a supervisor or employer
- the responsibility to use or wear personal protective devices
How vulnerable workers can affect your business
Health and safety should be considered an investment. Firms that operate in a healthy and safe way benefit in many ways, including improving their bottom line and employee morale. Vulnerable workers may be more exposed to injury and illness than other workers because of their lack of experience, reluctance to ask questions, communication barriers, and the type of work they do. The business justification includes:
- compliance with the law
- cost reduction
- business interruption protection
- employee relations improvement
- reliability and productivity improvement
- public trust
- organization capability
What you can do
- Establish procedures and measures for workplace health and safety and ensure that they are always followed
- Ensure equipment and personal protective equipment is provided and maintained properly
- Ensure that all hazards, illnesses and injuries are reported immediately
- Identify hazards in the workplace and provide training/instruction on how to handle them
- Provide proper and ongoing training
- Respond promptly to all health and safety concerns
- Lead by example: use and wear safety equipment when required, and participate in drills and other emergency response training
Step 1: Determine if workers are exposed to hazards A worker is considered exposed to hazards in the workplace if he or she reports: • experiencing two or more of the nine hazards weekly or more often, or • experiencing just one of the following weekly or more often: • work involving lifting or carrying 20kg at least 10 times a day, • work at heights greater than two metres, • work with hazardous substances such as chemicals, flammable liquids, and gases, • being bullied or harassed at work. If the answers indicate the worker is exposed to hazards at work, he or she is considered vulnerable if resources are not in place to lessen the effects of hazard exposure.
Step 2: Assess the adequacy of resources to lessen the effects of hazard exposure Among just those workers exposed to hazards based on the criteria above, determine if they have adequate access to resources designed to lessen the effects of being exposed; i.e., determine if they report effective workplace policies and procedures, an awareness of their OHS rights and responsibilities, and a workplace culture that encourages worker participation in injury and illness prevention.
Step 3: Use the results to pinpoint areas for OHS improvement If responses indicate vulnerability to work injury and illness in your workplace, you can explore them to determine the main driver(s) behind the vulnerability. Is it inadequate policies and practices? Low worker awareness of OHS rights and responsibilities? Poor worker empowerment to participate in the protection of their own health and safety? The answer will help determine where to focus prevention efforts. If you asked additional questions about location, job tenure, age, etc., look at how they correlate to the drivers of vulnerability. This will help further pinpoint where to focus prevention efforts. For example, you may find that workers who have been with your organization for under a year tend to report low awareness, indicating a need for more OHS training and supervision of new-hires.
Staff and SUPERVISORS should have equal answer regarding these questions
How often do you ….
- Have to manually lift, carry or push items heavier than 20 kg at least 10 times during the day?
- Have to do repetitive movements with your hands or wrists for at least three hours during the day?
- Have to perform work tasks, or use work methods, that you are not familiar with?
- Interact with hazardous substances such as chemicals, flammable liquids and gases?
- Have to work in a bent, twisted or awkward work posture?
- Experience pain or discomfort as a result of your job?
- Work at a height that is two metres or more above the ground or floor?
- Work in noise levels that are so high that you have to raise your voice when talking to people less than one metre away?
- Face being bullied or harassed at work?
- Have to stand for more than two hours in a row?
- Come to work feeling fatigued?
Response options are: Never, once a year, every six months, every three months, every month, every week or every day.
Policies and procedures
How strongly do you agree or disagree with the statement: At my workplace ….
- Everyone receives the necessary workplace health and safety training when starting a job, changing jobs or using new techniques.
- There is regular communication between employees and management about safety issues.
- Systems are in place to identify, prevent and deal with hazards at work.
- Workplace health and safety is considered to be at least as important as production and quality.
- There is an active and effective health and safety committee, and /or worker health and safety rep.
- Incidents and accidents are investigated quickly in order to improve workplace health and safety.
- Communication about workplace health and safety procedures is done in a way that I can understand.
How strongly do do you agree or disagree with the statement: At my workplace ….
- I am clear about my rights and responsibilities in relation to workplace health and safety.
- I am clear about my employer’s rights and responsibilities in relation to workplace health and safety.
- I know how to perform my job in a safe manner.
- If I became aware of a health or safety hazard at my workplace, I know who (at my workplace) I would report it to.
- I have the knowledge to assist in responding to any health and safety concerns.
- I know what the necessary precautions are that I should take while doing my job.
How strongly do do you agree or disagree with the statement: At my workplace ….
- I feel free to voice concerns or make suggestions about workplace health and safety at my job.
- If I notice a workplace hazard, I would point it out to management.
- I know that I can stop work if I think something is unsafe and management will not give me a hard time.
- If my work environment was unsafe, I would not say anything and hope that the situation eventually improves (reverse scored).
- I have enough time to complete my work tasks safely