The management of health and safety in the workplace

How is health and safety managed in the workplace?

Health and safety is managed in companies in a similar way to any other aspect of business through general management systems and specific health and safety management systems. The goal is to integrate the management of health and safety into the ways people do their work so that it is a part of everything we do on a day to day basis. For example, work instructions for the operation of plant and equipment not only include start up procedures, steps in the operation of the plant and equipment and shut down procedures but they also include instructions on how to set up, operate, clean, maintain and shutdown the plant and equipment safely as well as what to do in an emergency.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and other senior managers are primarily responsible for health and safety in the workplace. However everyone in the workplace has a role to play to ensure their safety and the safety of others. In general, the roles of each workplace group include:

  • Senior management sets up the work health and safety policies and procedures to ensure a healthy and safe workplace
  • Supervisors and other frontline and middle managers implement the procedures with their workers by ensuring their workers are trained in the procedures, are supervised to follow the procedures and follow the procedures
  • Workers follow the procedures to work safely, raise and report health and safety matters to their supervisors.

For example, senior managers may identify that work instructions need to be developed in order for equipment to be operated safely.

  • Senior management may then appoint one manager responsible for ensuring that work instructions are developed for all equipment in the workplace. That manager would then develop a plan for work instructions to be developed and identify a team that would develop work instructions in each area.
  • The team of middle managers in each area would then develop the work instructions and ensure that workers receive training.
  • Supervisors and other frontline managers would train and supervise workers to follow the work instructions.
  • Workers follow the work instructions to operate the equipment safely, raise and report any issues.

What is the goal of health and safety in the workplace?

The goal of health and safety in the workplace is expressed well by the federal government organisaiton responsible for health and safety in Australia, Safe Work Australia, as two principles that shape the vision for health and safety.

The first: all workers regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged have the right to a healthy and safe working environment. The second: well-designed, healthy and safe work will allow workers to have more productive working lives.”

The vision for achieving this as reflected in work health and safety legislation is based on prevention of work-related illness and/or injury through consultation, communication and coordination of health and safety matters in the workplace with all personnel involved, and taking a risk management approach to eliminate the risk of injury wherever possible or if this is not possible to minimize the risks.


The WHS legislation recognises that workplaces have better health and safety outcomes when workers have input into health and safety matters that affect them. The legislation requires CEO s(or persons who conducts a business or undertaking as the CEO is known in the legislation) to consult with workers who carry out work for the business and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by a work health or safety matter. Consultation on health and safety matters is conducted directly with workers and through workers representatives which may include health and safety representatives (HSR) and/or health and safety committees.

You should know who your health and safety representative is in your workplace. You may raise health and safety matters with them and they will work with appropriate workplace personnel to help resolve the matters.

You will also participate directly in health and safety matters relevant to your work area. Direct participation may include tool box meetings, meetings about changes to your work area, results of work inspections, emergency drills etc. You are encouraged to report and/or raise health and safety matters with your supervisor or health and safety rep.

What are the powers and functions of health and safety representatives?

The WHS Act sets out specific powers and functions that a HSR can perform in the interests of the workers they represent. The powers and functions are intended to enable HSRs to effectively represent the interests of the members of their work group and to contribute to work health and safety matters.

The powers and functions of HSRs are to:

  • represent the workers in their work group in relation to work health and safety matters
  • monitor the measures taken by the CEO/PCBU to comply with the WHS Act in relation to their work group members
  • investigate complaints from work group members about work health and safety
  • inquire into anything that appears to be a risk to the health or safety of work group members, arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking.

Who else does the CEO consult with on health and safety?

Under the new WHS legislation CEOs/PCBUs are required not only to consult with their own employees but they are also required to consult with anyone else who is associated with your workplace (such as contractors) to ensure that everyone works together to control work health and safety risk. This means for example that companies must consult with contractors to ensure they are meeting their duty of care to provide a safe environment when they are doing work for the company and they are also complying with the health and safety requirements of your company.