Transcript Video 1: An introduction to work health & safety management (Chapter 4)

While following some basic safety rules at work might be easy, understanding how to achieve effective Work health and safety Management is much more complex.

This resource is designed to help you understand some key concepts in Work health and safety by exploring some of the complexities. We will refine important terms in our context. By exploring the theories we will try to explain why certain approaches are useful while others lead to serious injuries for workers.

So, what is work health and safety management?

In its simplest sense, WHS management is any action taken by the company to ensure a safe workplace. This means protecting the people, plant, and environment from harm.

In simple terms, it can be considered the approaches, processes, tools and techniques used by business managers to keep their workers safe so they can achieve their work.

More technically, the World Health Organization describes it as “all aspects of health and safety in the workplace and has a strong focus on primary prevention of hazards.”

But what then is health? According to the World Health Organisation “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

So the ‘health’ in work health and safety is not just about preventing illness or injury but potentially about encouraging workers to be well.

Indeed, wellbeing promotion by business for workers is an emerging and growing area of work health and safety management.

What then does ‘safety’ mean in this work health and safety management context?

The World Health Organisation Standards Australia and New Zealand defines this as “A state in which the risk of harm (to persons) or damage is limited to an acceptable level.”

They go on to then define risk as “The likelihood and consequence of injury or harm occurring.”

This means that an employer is only expected to manage safety to an ‘acceptable level’ of risk for injury or harm to occur to their workers. Of course, if you are the employee who is injured it might be difficult to agree that your injury was acceptable!!!

Already you can see that there are complex concepts and terms that we use every day in undertaking work health and safety management.

While it is about safety in a ‘workplace’ even the idea of what a workplace means is changing and evolving over time.

For example, think about people who work for one company but who are sub-contracted or visiting many different sites – people who service machinery or perhaps even consultants. What about those who work a couple of days a week from home?


So rather than specifically focusing on defining the ‘workplace’ in work health and safety today we tend to focus on the people responsible for health and safety management of workers these people are known as PCBUs (person conducting a business or undertaking).

Workcover NSW defines this as: “A ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) is a legal term under WHS laws for individuals, businesses or organisations that are conducting business. A person who performs work for a PCBU is considered a worker.”

You can see that this definition removes the emphasis from specifically managing work sites towards thinking about worker health and safety wherever they are engaged in their work.

Under the work health and safety legislation in Australia it is anyone who “…performs work for a PCBU is considered a worker.”

This means that not only are permanent and casual employees workers, but volunteers and contractors and subcontractors are also classified as workers.

Also, some employers take their responsibilities one step further – they have really considered the World Health Organisation’s definition of ‘health’ as being well rather than be focused on avoiding injury or illness – these employers actively invest in their employees’ wellbeing. Wellbeing may be considered WHS taken to the next level, where now the employer is not only protecting the health of their people in the workplace, but also outside of work. This may include healthy life initiatives such as quit smoking programs, subsidised or fully funded gym memberships, and even activities such as education programs. The whole idea is that healthy employees are more productive and less prone to harm at work. So managers are often interested in well-being initiatives.

Organisations that effectively manage work health and safety are focused on the ‘prevention of hazards’.

What is a hazard? “…it’s a source or situation with a potential for harm.”

An organisation investing in wellbeing is simply higher up the prevention scale than a business that is just managing the basics of injury avoidance.

But please note, no matter the work health and safety initiative, the one thing that these initiatives always have in common is that they are focused on the health of workers.

Even though we may discuss large workplace disasters that have impacted on the general public, the focus of our discussion will always be on the workers involved.

As managers we can only seek to influence the behaviours of ourselves and our workers – not the general public.

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