Workplace/Occupational Health & Safety (WHS/OHS)

Workplace/occupational health and safety are regulated by state and territory agencies, so the information in this topic is general. Participants need to be aware of the WHS/OHS regulations and practices in your own workplace. There are many different aspects of WHS/OHS. This topic focuses on what you need to know to follow, and take part in updating, a risk management plan — one of the key strategies for identifying and describing how to manage workplace safety risks.

Risk management approach

The risk management approach is the key to understanding WHS/OHS practices. In this approach, we aim to identify potential risks. To do this, we use both foresight and learning from past experience. When risks have been identified, we can decide how to manage them.

For any serious risk, prevention is the goal. A serious risk is one where severe harm is very likely. So we need to think about how likely it is that a risk will eventuate, and how severe the consequences will be if it does.

We can use these two judgments with a risk matrix to decide what kind of action is required in response to the risk. Here is an example of a risk matrix from the WorkSafe in Western Australia:

Combining the likelihood and the consequence (or ‘severity’) allows us to identify a risk rating — a decision on how to proceed with the risk in question. Following this risk matrix, an unlikely event with an extreme consequence is ‘tolerable with continuous review.’ In other words, continuous attention and further action is needed to prevent this risk.

We can use a risk matrix to formulate a risk management plan, which sets out the review period and actions to be taken to prevent or manage the risks that have been identified. (The review period is how often the risk should be reviewed.)

Using a risk management plan

A regular WHS/OHS meeting is essential for monitoring the risks set out in a risk management plan. This ensures that regular reviews of risks happen as planned. Have any risks eventuated? What have we learned? What will we change?

Every organisation will have its own approach for recording a risk management plan. Here is an example, a template developed by the Queensland Government:

Something to notice: the right-hand columns assume that risk management can be ‘completed.’ For some operations, this is possible. For human services, many risks are ongoing. For instance, there is always the possibility of client aggression. It is not something that can be managed by taking one-off action.

For this reason, we might change those columns. They might say how often the risk should be reviewed, and the last date a review took place. This makes it easy to see which risks need reviewing at a WHS/OHS meeting.

A second example has been added. This item, the risk of anger leading to violence, is intended to be reviewed every fortnight. This is a high frequency, but it may be justified by how often anger comes up in client work. The review might ask for a run-down of incidents in the past fortnight. It might identify common factors or changes that can be made to make client work safer in the future. These changes should be integrated into policy, procedures and practice.

Exercise

Use the modified risk management template to identify 3-5 risks that might arise in peer navigation practice.

Using the risk matrix above, identify how likely, how severe the risks are, and what risk rating they should get.

Based on the risk rating, identify how often you think the risks should be reviewed, and what initial and further action can be taken to prevent and monitor the risks in practice.