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Mining & Resources | Occupational Health & Safety

How to balance the science and art of work health and safety

5 Apr 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

As a director or manager of a mining operation, you might think you have your workplace health and safety (WHS) obligations covered. Team members constantly on high alert for signs of spontaneous combustion; safety alerts in place for the correct selection of PUR products; and stringent review and control measures following gas exceedance. Overlaying this, technologies in place that ensure any maintenance issues are flagged early.

Dr. Trent Watson Chief Executive of Ethos Health refers to measures like this as the ‘science’ of WHS; and says that, while important, they are only part of the equation. To fully meet the safety needs of workers, the ‘art’ of WHS must also be mastered, he argues. Ahead of the Miners’ Health & Wellbeing Conference, hosted by Informa Connect, Dr. Watson touches on what this entails.

Walk the talk

The success of a workplace health and safety program is measured by how many people are engaged with it. With that in mind, leaders will want to master meaningful rhetoric when delivering key safety messages, but also back it up with meaningful action, Dr. Watson said.

“Any manager or director can stand in front of their workforce and say ‘I care about your health and safety’. The reality is that employees won’t will believe it, unless it is underpinned by a clear method and action.

“This behaviour can take many forms, but a key example is regularly reviewing your WHS initiatives and reporting back progress. Nothing says you care more than following up to check whether an initiative is actually working.”

When talking to workers about safety, employers should also consider the famous KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) acronym, Dr. Watson advises.

“Articulate your model in a couple of pages in language your workforce is familiar with. Personally, I think a traffic light model is very effective. Red could mean something is an issue that needs to be dealt with urgently. Green could mean everything is working as it should.”

Incorporate the four domains

WHS protocols in large corporations often focus on creating a ‘controlled working environment’, free from physical hazards. This represents just one of four domains that employers should tackle in their quest to balance the science and art of WHS. ‘Fitness for work’, ‘fitness for life’, and ‘workplace systems and culture’ are equally important – but often overlooked – domains of WHS strategy, Dr. Watson argues.

“Say a worker trips up on uneven ground. A strategy that focuses solely on controlling the work environment will look to even-out the ground or put up a warning sign.

“An all-encompassing strategy will look at the physical condition of the employee, for example, whether or not they are less mobile than usual due to weight gain (fit for life), their ability to carry out normal duties (fit for work), and also, factors that might influence whether or not the incident gets reported (workplace systems and culture).

“If your employee is overweight, support them in their journey to better health. If the last time they or a team member reported an incident they got put on a meaningless task, perhaps they will hold back from reporting next time. Give them a more meaningful task and others might be more willing in the future.”

Further insights

Dr. Trent Watson is Chief Executive Officer at Ethos Health – a Newcastle based workplace health and safety organisation. He will give further commentary and expert advice on managing complex work health and safety issues at the Miners’ Health & Wellbeing Conference hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held on 25-26 October at the Rydges South Bank Brisbane.

Learn more and register here.

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