According to a 2023 Oxford Academic study, blue-collar workers across the Western world have more health problems than other workers, but they are less likely to participate in worksite health promotion programs, even though many employers are placing an increasingly high priority on improving the health and well-being of workers.
There is no clear reason for this lack of participation, but at Labour Solutions Australia (LSA), we have always placed a premium on health and safety. In fact, we have seen a 40% decrease in our recordable injury frequency rates over the past five years thanks to this focus.
With National Safe Work Month shining the spotlight on workplace safety, we sat down with our Quality, Compliance and WHS Manager, Chris Bailey, to discuss how LSA approaches safety, and why safety is such a priority in our business and for our clients and candidates.
Given the challenges that blue-collar workers face, how are safety standards approached by LSA?
Chris: One of our biggest pre-requisites when we kick off with a new client is our risk assessment. As a labour hire provider, we won’t work with a business that does not have the same duty of care, obligations and commitment to safety as we do. Once we pass an employee over to a client, we have no operational oversite, so this is the foundation of our safety-first focus. From a regulatory compliance and business ethics perspective, it is critical for businesses to do everything within reason to protect workers – employee safety is the number one priority.
Once the risk assessment is complete, and we onboard a client, we then have a number of safety specific mechanisms in place. For example, we have regular monthly meetings with most of our big clients, reviewing their safety components and any on-site injuries. It’s important to ensure that if an injury does take place, our clients and employees are receiving the right support from us.
How are injuries managed when they do arise?
Chris: All incidents and injuries are assessed on a case-by-case basis with expert advisors, but there are a few key elements. The ultimate goal is always to get an injured worker back to their pre-injury duties, irrespective of the cost. To achieve this, it’s important to provide the appropriate support mechanisms. These can range from time off if required, to light duties where appropriate. If light duties are possible while healing from an injury, they should be embraced. We’ve seen that getting up and going to work every day has a marked effect on the speed of getting people back to work. Engaging with colleagues and following a routine supports consistency, mental health, and a desire to continue working. If a person does not return to work within four weeks, the likelihood of getting them back to work in any timeframe is around 40%, which is significant. In some cases, this is because of the severity of the injury, but in others it’s because the individual struggles with mental aspects of returning to their previous routine.
The mantra ‘prevention is better than a cure’ is perfect for workplace safety. What are LSA’s proactive systems and processes to support achieving low injury rates?
Chris: Education is critical. Globally, blue-collar, labour hire workers do not always tend to be very engaged with workplace health and safety programs. That is a trend that we do not accept in our workforce. There are a few key ways we promote engagement across our workforce and worksites. We don’t only focus on the physical aspect of safety, but the mental aspect too. We look to engage workers, so they will naturally focus more on these programs. There are a few ways we do this, including regular and consistent Toolbox Talks. We complete about one thousand toolbox talks a month to individuals, covering everything from safety to mental health, managing end-of-year fatigue, the importance of wearing PPE, and how to report injuries. A focus on personal and team safety and a collaborative approach helps individuals feel part of a team and cared for as well. When a worker knows they are in an organisation that cares about them, and in our case that’s both the client’s business and LSA, they will naturally be more inclined to take toolbox talks seriously and to use the mechanisms offered to them. We want people to report issues or injuries, and that begins with creating a safe, transparent environment.
How does the Australian legislative landscape impact your systems and processes?
Chris: State and federal government legislation has dramatically improved over the years. We ascribe to WorkSafe Australia and receive a weekly email with industry-specific legislative changes that is typically 40 pages long. Our team reviews those documents, we update our legal obligations register, and then review if we must make any operational changes. Sometimes only a few tweaks are required; in other cases, major overhauls are needed. This is one of the reasons why our clients work with us. Staying on top of health and safety legislation is a massive and complex task that requires specific expertise. We have that expertise, and we carry that burden. We are ISO45001 accredited, which is an international safety accreditation. Our clients rest easy knowing that we significantly reduce their risk profiles.
What does the future of safety hold?
Chris: We believe one of the biggest changes—and we are already seeing this—is mechanisation and automation. There is always some fear associated with changes, particularly if people think their jobs are in danger, but in this space, we really believe that the more dangerous aspects of various industries will be mechanised, which is positive for workers and employers. This will open new areas where humans can add value in the workplace in safer, more controlled ways.