A recent study1 involving more than 8,800 employees shows that 39 per cent of us are sleeping six hours or less a night and are more stressed, have less energy and are working longer hours than those employees who get the recommended 7 – 9 hours a night.

The concept that workloads and work-related stress are keeping us awake at night probably isn’t far from the truth. Stress, both at work and at home, alcohol, lack of exercise and of course technology and screens are all impacting negatively on our day to day wellbeing.

Health experts recommend 7 – 9 hours’ sleep a night for optimal wellbeing and performance, but it would seem not many of us are reaching that target. Workers sleeping less than 6 hours a night recorded higher stress levels, additional work hours, less energy and almost 20 per cent difference in their work life balance compared to employees who get the recommended amount. It seems people who rest well, work well.

These findings show the less sleep you get, the more prone you are to be working additional hours with close to 30 per cent working 9 + hours extra a week. These people also take shorter lunch breaks and have considerably less energy during the workday.

This is even more concerning in an industry that using large machinery, power tools and other higher-risk items on a daily basis. Being ‘on the tools’ when a person is overtired can only lead to poor concentration, poor decision-making and potentially poor safety outcomes.

A recently released report by the Federal Government2 also found four in every ten Australians are not getting the sleep they need. The direct financial cost of this inadequate sleep is currently estimated to be $26.2 billion annually.

Trent Zimmerman MP, said in the report “If health and wellbeing costs are considered, the cost rises to $66.3 billion annually. Of even greater concern, in 2016-17 inadequate sleep was estimated to contribute to 3017 deaths in Australia.”

And it’s not just work that’s keeping us awake… insufficient sleep can be caused by a range of lifestyle pressures including shift changes, and the increased use of the internet and electronic media. Shift work, especially when it involves night shift, can be extremely disruptive to sleep patterns, and in the longer term, this disrupted sleep can have serious health impacts. Shift work has been linked to the increased risk of obesity, sleep disorders, mental health conditions, and cancer.

The overuse of smartphones and our growing love affair with the internet is also proving to have a massive impact on our sleep patterns. People are increasingly watching streaming services, internet gaming, and using social media late at night, potentially at the expense of sleep. This is also alarmingly starting to affect children, who are having their sleep continually disrupted by their smartphones or other devices.

If you’re an employer, or PCBU, responsible for the safety and wellbeing of workers, what can be done to help people get better sleep and more of it??

Your culture onsite has a significant effect on your team’s ability to sleep. Establish work-time limits and reduce the long hours your employees work where possible. Encourage workers to down tools, take a walk, remove themselves from their workspace and make lunch breaks compulsory for some much-needed downtime. It always helps to lead by example, too. Go easy on the alcohol during the week, bring a healthy lunch to work, cut back on the coffees. Small changes during the day help to achieve that rested state when it’s time for lights out.

It’s worth noting a recent study on wellbeing found that rude or offensive co-workers didn’t just cause stress at work, their behaviour can carry across into downtime at home and lead to anxiety and depression. This ‘spill over’ effect can cause insomnia and stress, even after the workday is well behind you.

With so many people not getting enough quality sleep, and then bringing the effects of that lack of sleep to work, it’s vital that employers look to managing this issue as part of their standard approach to safety in the workplace. Have the conversations about lifestyle choices, monitor behaviours, give workers breaks to refuel and refocus, and keep stress to a minimum. The benefits will be reaped by all, not only at work but 24-7.

 

1 Workscore.com.au

2 Bedtime Reading, Inquiry into Sleep Health Awareness in Australia

PPE (personal protective equipment) is defined as anything used or work to minimise risk to a worker’s health and safety. It includes many items like boots, ear plugs, hard hats, harnesses, goggles, gloves and more.

But is using PPE the safest way to get a job done and protect workers?

Model WHS regulations require you to work through a hierarchy of controls to manage risk in certain circumstances.

Under this hierarchy, using PPE is ranked as one of the least effective safety control measures, with a Level 3 rating. Level 3 control measures do not control the hazard at the source. They rely on human behaviour and supervision and when used on their own tend to be the least effective in minimising risks. Workplaces must not rely on PPE to satisfy their hazard control requirements.

What does this mean for you and your workers?

PPE should only be used:

  • as a last resort
  • as an interim measure
  • as a back-up.

It is best used as a supplement to higher-level control measures or when no other safety measures are available. Before relying only on PPE, you must do a risk assessment to determine if other controls could be used more effectively.

If you are unable to put better control measures in place, PPE may be used as an interim or last resort measure to address a safety issue. When used, it must be:

  • suitable for the nature of the work or hazard
  • a suitable size and fit for the individual who is required to use it and that it is reasonably comfortable
  • maintained, repaired or replaced, including keeping it clean and hygienic, and in good working order
  • used or worn by the worker, so far as is reasonably practical.

As an employer, or PCBU, you must:

  • consult with your workers when selecting PPE
  • ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the PPE is used or worn by the worker
  • provide workers with information and instruction in the proper use and wearing of PPE, its storage and maintenance.

Workers also have responsibilities when PPE is used in the workplace. When provided with PPE by an employer or PCBU, workers must:

  • use or wear the PPE in accordance with any information, training or reasonable instruction provided by the PCBU, so far as they are reasonably able
  • not intentionally misuse or damage the PPE
  • inform the business of any damage, defect or need to clean or decontaminate any of the PPE if they become aware of it
  • consult their manager if the PPE is uncomfortable, does not fit properly or the worker has an adverse reaction using it.

If PPE is required on a work site, the PCBU is responsible for providing it to workers, free of charge. Under some circumstances, the payment for PPE can be negotiated e.g. whether the equipment can be generally used outside work (sunglasses, boots etc), a requirement for a personal fit, as well as relevant industry awards or enterprise agreements.

Regardless of who pays for the PPE, workers must be provided with enough information, training and instruction on when and how to use it.

When selecting PPE for different work tasks, you must:

  • match the PPE to the hazard – work tasks may expose workers to more than one hazard e.g. welders may need protection from welding gases, as well as ultraviolet radiation, hot metal and sparks,
  • consider how the work is to be carried out and the level of risk to the worker e.g. a more protective respirator may be needed in high air contamination areas.
  • make sure PPE that is to be worn at the same time can be used together.

It’s important to get PPE right for each job, but it’s equally important to look at the work environment as well.

You should consider the impacts of a hot and humid work environment, or if you’re working with hazardous chemicals or biological substances, think about how the substance could enter the body i.e. can it be absorbed through the lungs and skin.

Always choose PPE that meets current Australian Standards and make sure the PPE isn’t giving rise to any other issues. PPE can restrict visibility and mobility, some workers may suffer allergic reactions, it can hinder a worker’s national cooling mechanisms or exacerbate other health issues.

Monitor workers using PPE to ensure it is being worn and stored correctly. While this can be time consuming, as a PCBU you are under legislative obligation to do so, so far as is reasonably practicable.

While the use of PPE is not necessarily the best way to manage a work health and safety risk, when it is used correctly and is fit for purpose, it can be a very effective one.

For more information on managing risks, implementing control measures and using PPE, contact your state’s work health and safety regulator.

A company in Victoria accused of breaching safety laws, in failing to conduct monthly inspections of scaffolding, has responded to a serious fall by employing an OHS compliance officer, overhauling its OHS register and entering a $55,000 undertaking.

In 2017, a worker was inspecting the eaves at a Victorian construction site, controlled by TS Constructions Pty Ltd, when he fell more than three metres through a gap in the scaffolding, where two planks had been removed. He suffered broken facial bones and a broken wrist.

It was later found that the TS site foreman recalled the planks being moved by bricklayers, probably so they could access a window area, but failed to conduct a follow-up inspection to ensure the planks were replaced.

TS was charged with breaching the State OHS Act and Regulations in failing to ensure the scaffold was complete and safe by properly inspecting it at least once every 30 days and failing to ensure no work was performed from incomplete scaffolding.

WorkSafe Victoria accepted TS’s bid to enter an enforceable undertaking, in lieu of prosecution. The regulator heard the company responded to the painting worker’s fall by engaging a compliance officer with extensive experience in the construction industry, whose primary role was overseeing the company’s safety policies and procedures and ensuring best practice performance of the company’s OHS compliance.

TS engaged external entities to review its OHS management system, while also updating and expanded its AS/NZS 4801-accredited OHS register. The company rolled out additional safety training to supervisors and contractors, invited WorkSafe representatives to provide relevant OHS updates at quarterly meetings, and, in the space of twelve months conducted almost 150 site compliance inspections.

With scaffolding safety such a serious issue in our industry, another jurisdiction is conducting ‘Operation Scaff Safe 2019’. SafeWork NSW is targeting scaffold compliance across all sectors of construction. They are looking to ensure scaffolds are built to Australian Standards and are not missing components; those erecting, dismantling or altering scaffolds (where the risk of an object or person falling is 4 metres or more) hold the correct HRW scaffolding licence, and scaffolds remain safe and compliant throughout the build process.

On-the-spot fines of up to $3,600 may be issued to PCBUs placing workers lives at risk by not protecting them from falls from heights, or for those conducting high risk work without a licence (this includes scaffolding work where a person or object can fall more than 4 metres).

SafeWork Australia has a guide that provides information on how to manage risks associated with scaffolds and scaffolding work at a workplace. It is supported by guidance material for specific types of scaffolds and scaffolding, suspended (swing stage) scaffolds, scaffold inspection and maintenance, and advice for small businesses and workers on managing the risks associated with tower and mobile scaffolds and related scaffolding work.

Do you know how to safely store the chemicals you work with and the obligations you have under WHS legislation? Are you responsible for developing safety data sheets?

Working with and around chemicals can be dangerous if you don’t know the right way to use them and store them. Let’s look at some of the common health and safety risks of storing chemicals review how to manage those risks.

Hazardous chemicals are defined as substances, mixtures and articles that can pose a health or physical hazard to humans. They may be solids, liquids or gases.

Health hazards are properties of a chemical that cause adverse health effects. This could include toxic chemicals, carcinogens and chemicals which may cause infertility or birth defects. Exposure to these chemicals usually occurs through inhalation, ingestion or skin contact.

Physical hazards are properties of a chemical that can result in immediate injury to people or damage to property. For example, flammable liquids, compressed gases and self-heating substances. Corrosive chemicals can have both physical and health hazards and could damage skin and eyes.

Even when you’re not using them, chemicals can still pose a risk. Flammable and oxidising chemicals may cause or contribute to a fire, corrosive chemicals can injure workers and damage structures they come into contact with and toxic chemicals can poison. Compressed gases can also suffocate or poison workers if they leak.

Also, some chemicals are not compatible with other chemicals. When incompatible chemicals mix they can explode, release toxic, flammable or corrosive gases, or corrode chemical containers, causing them to leak. It’s important to identify which chemicals are incompatible and ensure that hazardous chemicals are stored safely to minimise the chance of an incident occurring.

When using and storing hazardous chemicals, you should always follow a risk management approach, by:

  • Identifying the hazards – what could cause harm?
  • Assess the risks, if any – how could it harm workers, how serious is the harm and how likely is it to happen?
  • Eliminate these risks so far as is reasonably practicable
  • Control the risks – if it is not practical to eliminate the risk, implement control measures
  • Review and maintain control measures

This might include considerations such as:

  • Where possible, perform the task without using hazardous chemicals
  • Where possible, substitute hazardous chemicals with less toxic alternatives
  • Isolate hazardous chemicals
  • Ensure storage areas are separately ventilated from the rest of the workplace
  • Make sure workers are thoroughly trained in handling chemicals safety
  • Always use personal protection equipment (PPE) such as respirators, gloves and goggles
  • Regularly monitor the workplace with appropriate equipment to track the degree of hazardous chemicals in the air or environment
  • Consult with your workers to maintain and improve existing safety and handling practices
  • Keep emergency management plans up to date, and share them with workers
  • Eliminate ignition sources, but if not practicable then control them
  • Clearly label all hazardous chemicals, including those decanted into other containers.

NOTE: When labelling chemicals, the GHS1notes warning labels on hazardous substances should feature hazard pictograms, signal words (such as danger and warning), hazard statements (such as fatal if swallowed) and precautionary statements (such as wear protective gloves).

Before you use or store any hazardous chemicals, you must get a current safety data sheet from the manufacturer or supplier. You must also maintain updated safety data sheets and ensure your workers, emergency services personnel or anyone who asks is provided with that information.

You also need to keep a register that lists all the hazardous chemicals (except certain consumer products and certain chemicals in transit) which are used, stored and handled at your workplace. It must include the current safety data sheet for each chemical listed. Make sure everyone affected by the hazardous chemicals can view the register.

If you store chemicals, use a checklist to help keep them safe and ensure you are storing them correctly (see our one-page checklist at the end of this article).

For more information, visit the work health and safety regulator in your state.

  1. Globally Harmonised System (GHS) of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals

Channel Nine has reported on a spate of horrific injuries to small children and toddlers, following falls onto shopping rack and hooks in retailers including Target and K-Mart.

Several children have had to have emergency and reconstructive surgery to their eyes after colliding with metal hooks when they’ve fallen over or bent to collect an item off the floor, leaving them with catastrophic injuries.

The investigation by the television network has uncovered a range of incidents across various retailers and has led leading ophthalmologists to warn that placing any type of hook or rack at small children’s height is clearly fraught with danger. The potential for severe and permanent damage is incredibly high.

It would appear some retailers are beginning to make changes with the way they design and fit out their displays but the industry as a whole has been slow to follow.

Designers and shopfitters have a responsibility to ensure their installations are as safe as possible, not just for workers but also shoppers, of all sizes.

One of the five national priorities in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22, safety in design aims to prevent injuries by considering hazards as early as possible in the planning and design process, which includes design of plant, structures, substance as well as the work itself.

Safe design is the integration of hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to eliminate or minimise the risks of injury throughout the life of a product being designed. Of 639 work-related fatalities from 2006­­ to 2011, one-third (188) were caused by unsafe design or design-related factors contributed to the fatality. Of all fatalities where safe design was identified as an issue, one in five was caused by inadequate protective guarding for workers.

This lack of design around guarding extends beyond workers, and into the customer space, as the recent spate of horrific injuries on toddlers would prove.

What should you consider when designing a fit out to manage work health and safety risks?

  • The physical design of a product, or the way that product will be used.
  • Work layout to reduce the possibility of hazards occurring in the space.
  • Applying risk management principles to the design process to eliminate hazards that may occur – in this case, removing the dangers of hooks and hangers to small children
  • Designing work to minimise risk. Creating healthy and safe work requires jobs and tasks be designed to accommodate the abilities, diversity and vulnerabilities of workers, and providing them with the tools needed to conduct the work safely for everyone.

A design should also consider the functional requirements of the space. Make sure your store design considers the needs of both your business and customers. Safety is paramount for anyone who will spend time in the shop, so it should cater for people with disabilities or prams by providing ramps, handrails, lifts, wide aisles and hearing loops for sound systems, keeping any potentially dangerous hooks, rails or stands away from children, and providing easy and safe access throughout the space to move freely.

SafeWork Australia has developed a Model Code of Practice on Safe Design of Structures, developed to provide practical guidance to anyone conducting a business or undertaking who design structures that will be used, or could reasonably be expected to be used, as a workplace. This includes architects, building designers and engineers. This model Code is also relevant for anyone making decisions that influence the design outcome, such as clients, developers and builders*.

*To have legal effect in a jurisdiction, the model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice in that jurisdiction. To determine if this model Code of Practice has been approved as a code of practice in a particular jurisdiction, check with the relevant regulator.

You may know that crystalline silica is very commonly used in manufacturing building products and in construction materials. You may not know it’s killing workers at an alarming rate, and you don’t have to have worked around it for long to feel its effects.

Crystalline silica is a naturally occurring mineral found in most rocks, sand, clay; and importantly, in products such as bricks, concrete, tile and composite stone.

For the shopfitting industry, workers may be exposed to crystalline silica when cutting, grinding, sanding and polishing, or during the installation of stone benchtops and other stone products.

The crystalline silica content in stone benchtops can vary widely depending on the type of stone used. Engineered stone products can contain up to 95 per cent crystalline silica. A natural stone like granite may contain from 20 to 60 per cent.

Silica particles can be so small that they are not visible, and they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, potentially leading to silicosis. Silicosis is a scarring of the lungs, resulting in loss of lung function that causes permanent disability and early death. It is incurable and continues to develop after exposure has stopped.

Fabricating and installing natural and artificial stone bench tops can release high levels of RCS through cutting, grinding and polishing processes, particularly when dry cutting methods are used.

If you or your workers operate powered hand tools to cut or grindstone, i.e. circular saws or grinders, you risk having some of the highest RCS exposures of all fabricators. This can occur in a workshop or on a job site during installation. Workers performing other tasks in areas where powered hand tools are used may also be exposed to high levels of dust.

In all states and territories of Australia, there is a duty on employers (or PCBUs – persons conducting a business or undertaking) to ensure the health and safety of workers and others. You must manage the risk from work tasks that involve crystalline silica.

From conducting a thorough review of all work tasks involving crystalline before you start, to considering where and how your workers are coming in contact with silica dust, the tools they are using, even where they eat meals and what they wear to go home… managing the high risk of working with crystalline silica cannot be ignored. Contact your state regulator for more information. SafeWork Australia also has a Technical Guide for Managing Silica Exposure in the Workplace.