A work health safety management system (WHSMS)

A WHSMS is a systems-based approach to help companies manage their work health and safety risks and maintain compliance with current legislative requirements.

What is a work health and safety management system?

A WHSMS is a collective set of procedures, plans, and associated documents that align with business operations and support the process of managing workplace health and safety.

The WHSMS is designed to help organizations identify potential workplace hazards, assess the risks associated with those hazards, and document controls to manage the risks. The WHSMS will often include additional aspects to manage other compliance aspects, such as certification and relevant stakeholder requirements.

What can go wrong with a WHSMS?

WHSMS is not right-sized to the organization

It is often the case that the company WHSMS is too large for the workplace operations being conducted and that there is a belief that ‘more means more’. This is fundamentally untrue. Work health and safety management systems should be succinct, easily understandable, and strongly aligned to the work done by the business and the health and safety risks associated with those operations.

Failure to identify and manage risks

The core of a WHSMS is the risk management process. This underpins the size, scale, and content of the WHSMS, and the system should prompt the identification of potential foreseeable workplace risks and allocate commensurate controls.

Lack of clarity of safety procedures

Safety procedures within the WHSMS must be clear for the workers working under them. Clarity increases productivity. Poorly written and unclear procedures can lead to confusion among workers regarding what to do. In the absence of standardized procedures, workers may seek alternative controls – which could be completely ‘safe’ but also create some inconsistencies in control measures, and the reliability of the process is then difficult to measure and provide assurance on.

Inadequate training programs

A WHSMS should be underpinned by a clear and documented training program. The WHSMS should include a Training Needs Analysis based on identified risk controls, along with any regulated training requirements.

Insufficient emergency response plans

The WHSMS must also include a process for responding when things go wrong, and having well-defined emergency management plans, which consider all potential emergency scenarios that are regularly tested and updated, is crucial for minimizing harm.

Lack of governance and assurance processes

The WHSMS must have a process for reviewing the effectiveness of the system and include processes for identifying where problems may be within the system. This should include clearly articulated inspections and audits – including internal and external programs. More mature work health and safety management systems will include assurance programs that include senior management and subject matter expert reviews, and be measured against specific KPIs and reporting programs.

Legal and financial consequences

Failing to implement and maintain an effective work health and safety management system can have severe legal and financial implications for businesses.

Breach of compliance with regulations

Organizations that don’t meet their health and safety duties leave themselves vulnerable to breaching work health and safety legislation and other compliance requirements, which can result in penalties and potential legal consequences.

Damage to organizational reputation

Workplace incidents and accidents resulting from a poor work health and safety management system can damage an organization’s reputation. Adverse publicity, perception of poor safety performance, loss of trust from customers and stakeholders, and a tarnished brand can have long-lasting repercussions, impacting business relationships and future opportunities.

Final thoughts

A poor work health and safety management system can have a detrimental impact on both employees and businesses.

It is important that companies take the necessary steps to ensure their work health and safety management system is right for their business, up to date, and compliant with all relevant requirements. Prioritizing the implementation and maintenance of a robust WHSMS can help organizations maintain worker health and safety, comply with regulations and certifications, and generally create a more productive work environment.

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