It’s easy to believe that OH&S isn’t a significant issue in a professional environment. Typically, when people think of a ‘workplace incident’ they tend to think of work sites or a manufacturing environment rather than an office. Yet in 2015 the second most common form of workplace incident was stress.
Increasing prevalent in professional service firms, incidents of workplace stress cost Australian businesses more than $10 billion annually and are the most expensive form of claim, because workers tend to be absent for significant periods of time. Consequently, it’s critical that financial planning firms understand their OH&S obligations. Knowing and adhering to your responsibilities will not only ensure that your practice is equipped to deal with an incident if one occurs, it will also mitigate the risk of a breach and the significant penalties associated.
So what are an employer’s obligations from a health and safety perspective?
Regardless of which state your business operates in (the laws differ slightly from state to state), all employers essentially have three core obligations:
Provide a safe environment
As an employer you have responsibility to provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and without risks to the health of its employees. Essentially, this means you must:
- monitor and control risks (as far as practical) that might influence the physical or psychological wellbeing of employees;
- respond and investigate complaints in a thorough and timely manner; and
- provide adequate training to employees and management on how to perform their role without risk to the health and safety of themselves or others.
Effectively manage workplace injuries
If an injury occurs in the workplace there are a series of administrative steps that the employer must complete to ensure adequate records are maintained and all the appropriate parties are notified of the incident in a timely manner. Among these obligations are:
- maintenance of the practice’s incident register; and
- completion and lodgement of WorkCover documentation to the appropriate authority within the required time frame – generally this is 10 calendar days from the date the employee submits a WorkCover claim.
Assist injured workers return to work
Research illustrates that returning to work aids in the recovery process. Consequently, as an employer you are obliged to:
- provide suitable alternative employment for up to 52 weeks;
- provide pre-injury employment when the employee has full capacity; and
- appoint a return to work coordinator to help facilitate the return to work process.
By the way, the fact that you are a small business with less than 16 employees doesn’t automatically negate your responsibility to find suitable alternative duties.
How can you ensure that you comply?
Here are three easy steps to get you started:
- If you don’t have one already, develop a policy around OH&S. The most effective way to create a safe environment is to demonstrate your commitment to safety and ensure that everyone in your practice is clear about their health and safety responsibilities.
- Review or implement a procedure for responding and investigating complaints. Ensure you have a clear process which protects employees that raise health and safety issues (or any other issue for that matter) from being discriminated against.
- Familiarise yourself with the legislation in your state so that if an incident occurs you can manage it efficiently and effectively. If this isn’t feasible, consider identifying a third party that will be able to provide the necessary assistance.
If you don’t have policies or procedures in place to deal with these matters, or are unsure about what qualifies as a good policy or process, please contact People Focused. Alternatively, if you would like to understand how well you meet your compliance obligations overall, we can conduct an initial HR Compliance Assessment.
About the Author
Christine Bau is the founder and Principal of People Focused, a HR consulting firm that specialises in working with professional services to improve the performance of their people. Christine works with practices to ensure they meet their risk obligations and have the right tools in place to maximise employee performance. She also runs workshops on how to have meaningful conversations in the workplace. For more information contact Christine on 0434 534 747 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.peoplefocused.com.au.