How SMEs can better keep up with work safety

How SMEs can better keep up with work safety

How SMEs can better keep up with work safety | Insurance Business Australia


How SMEs can better keep up with work safety

Zurich knows that workplace environments are continually changing – as are the people who work in them


Bennett Richardson

This article was produced in partnership with Zurich

Changing demographics, new regulation, labour shortages and a much stronger emphasis on previously under the radar ills such as mental health have broadened the scope of workplace safety in Australia, necessitating a more proactive risk management strategy for employers.

One insurer on the front foot when it comes to helping firms get ahead of the curve and stay there regarding related risks is Zurich.

“If you’re standing still, you’re going backwards,” says Zurich Australia principal risk engineer for Western Australia and Tasmania, Gary Wolstencroft.

The changing nature of work and workers

Zurich Risk Engineering was at the forefront of advising businesses on the sudden surge in remote working during COVID-19 and continues to do so as many of these practices continue, but Wolstencroft now sees risk management morphing yet again as the nature of the workforce itself evolves.

“Health and safety practices need to reflect the diversity of the modern-day workforce to account for age, gender, ethnicity and cultural background,” he says.

“Solutions need to be found to help combat some of the effects of ageing such as reduction in physical capacity, decline in some cognitive abilities, sensory impairments, fatigue and slower reaction times,” says Wolstencroft.

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What constitutes work in terms of insurance coverage may also need to be reviewed.

“The definition of workers is changing. There’s an increase in the use of temporary and contract workforces as they can provide greater flexibility, allow for diverse skill sets to be accessed and provide a more cost-effective workforce.”

New legislation in relation to gig economy workers can mean workers may be covered under workers compensation policies when previously they may not have been.

Regulations around industrial manslaughter and mental health issues in the workplace have also been updated in recent years.

“Several states have legislation requiring employers to provide psychosocially safe workplaces with requirements to address psychosocial hazards as part of their duty to provide workplaces that are safe and healthy for employees.”

The changing nature of workplace ills

Mental health has become much more mainstream than in the past and with it, there is a corresponding rise in claims.

“Mental health claims are increasing and stress claims, on average, cost double that of other lost time injury claims,” says Wolstencroft.

In Western Australia, for example, stress related lost time claims increased by almost 20% between 2016 and 2020. According to Safe Work Australia, the total number of stress related claims has increased by 58% from 2000/2001 to 2019/2020 compared with just a 15% rise across all diseases.

More deskwork and a lack of activity has also contributed to more body stress claims.

What measures can SMEs take?

There are a range of free resources that SMEs can take advantage of to reduce workplace risks.

Safe Work Australia and the WorkSafe authorities in each state and territory provide a wealth of free information, resources and tools to help employers manage work health and safety. This can include templates, assessment tools and industry specific checklists and guidance. These government-related sources have newsletters, alerts and free webinars too.

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Industry trade associations and chambers of commerce may also provide free guidance and assistance.

“Look out for grants that are available for the implementation of safety initiatives,” says Wolstencroft.

Some WorkSafe authorities have schemes that allow SMEs access to free safety consultancy for a time, while some technology providers may also provide free or low-cost pilot programs to test platforms and equipment.

A cornucopia of assistance

Zurich is at the forefront of enhancing work safety through technology via its free Zurich Risk Advisor app, which helps assess risk and provides ideas on how to improve risk management.

“We help companies by providing risk management services and access to various tools and services which can help them mitigate their risks,” says Wolstencroft.

“By completing assessments on their operations and by analysing their performance, we can develop strategies to reduce the risk of incidents occurring.”

Zurich also co-ordinates with third party providers to provide tailored solutions to address specific customer needs. Other tools and resources it can provide to reduce risk exposure include occupational health and safety audits, workplace assessments for physical risks, employee wellbeing consultation and webinars conducted by various experts in their field in risk management. These tools help Zurich to promote insights on identifying, assessing and controlling risks.

“We can then manage and track the implementation of risk improvement actions and provide further assistance that may be necessary.”

Keeping workers at the centre

If the pace of workplace change is bewildering for business owners, just think how the workers themselves must feel.

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Wolstencroft believes that workers are often one of the best sources of information when it comes to bolstering a strong workplace safety culture. One of the most cost-effective and insightful ways to lift standards is to obtain feedback from workers on the challenges they face when completing work and use that knowledge to develop effective controls to help mitigate risks and reduce the risks of injury.

“Conduct risk assessments, with workers, to ensure hazards, that may not be apparent to those who do not complete such work tasks on a daily basis, are effectively managed. [It is important to] understand how work is completed and appreciate the variability that workers face… the people who do the work are the people who best understand how work is done,” says Wolstencroft.

At the same time, workplace culture needs to recognise the limits that people have and be flexible enough to forgive mistakes.

“Understand that human error is normal, so plan for failure and use those failures to learn and improve as opposed to blaming and punishing the worker. Safety management, like all risk management, is a continuous cycle of improvement.”

Zurich Financial Services Australia is the local arm of Zurich Insurance Group – a leading multi-line insurer that serves global and local markets. For 100 years, Zurich has combined global expertise with local care to provide leading wealth and insurance solutions. Zurich’s general insurance business is dedicated to a fully intermediated broker advice model. This approach is paired with a state and regional presence, empowering local teams to make local decisions on the ground. We are passionate about our purpose to ‘create a brighter future together’ and use our resources to contribute to communities through disaster resilience, community partnerships and sustainability.

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