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What does a safe working environment look like?

A safe working environment means:

  • workplace is designed to be healthy and safe
  • safe and clean workspaces
  • emergency plans are in place, and reviewed regularly
  • a fully-stocked first aid kit is available
  • machinery and equipment operate safely
  • mental health is a priority
  • hazardous chemicals are used, handled and stored safely
  • safety data sheets are available and up-to-date
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work health and safety

Design and layout of workplace

Make sure the design and layout is safe and meets the needs of your business. Consider:

Workplace layout
Workers can enter, exit and move about the workplace without risk, under normal working conditions and in an emergency. Make sure fall protection is in place - eg safety railings.
Entry and exitSlip-resistant, clearly marked and free of hazards
Work areaClean, tidy and well-maintained
Floors and surfacesslip-resistant and free of hazards - eg cables and loose tiles
Moving plantSeparate moving plant from workers - eg effective traffic management
LightingAllows workers to move around and do their job safely
AmenitiesClean, safe and accessible toilets, clean drinking water, hand washing facilities, eating and break facilities, first aid equipment, secure storage for personal items
VentilationFans, air-conditioning, windows or doors; use exhaust ventilation to remove dust or fumes
Working in extreme temperaturesKeep away from sources of extreme heat and cold, minimise time exposed to extreme temperatures, provide personal protective equipment
Outdoor workProvide shade and shelter, plan regular breaks, minimise time exposed to adverse weather, provide personal protective equipment
Remote or isolated workInstall security cameras for people working alone, use appropriate communication systems, provide accommodation
Temporary or mobile workplacesProvide access to toilets and hand washing facilities
Electrical workAlways use qualified licensed electricians

Maintain a healthy and safe workplace

You should:

  • clean spills immediately
  • keep walkways clear
  • store work materials neatly
  • remove waste
  • replace consumables, like soap and toilet paper
  • keep electrical appliances in good working order
  • replace damaged furniture, fixtures and fittings

Check equipment

Before you buy new or second-hand equipment, make sure it is fit-for-purpose. Test it, and consult with your workers to make sure it won’t introduce new problems.

Hazardous chemicals

Many chemicals used for commercial and industrial purposes are dangerous to human health. You must identify all harmful substances and materials and prevent or control exposure by:

  • making sure labels are correct
  • cleaning chemical containers when emptied
  • keeping a register of chemicals used, stored and handled
  • having a safety data sheet for all chemicals
  • displaying warning signs
  • keeping chemicals stable
  • managing spills and leaks
  • storing, handling and disposing of chemicals safely
  • supervising your workers

Chemical manufacturers, importers and suppliers have additional requirements. See the code of practice for managing hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

Mental health risks*

Poor mental health negatively impacts your business and your workers. You must protect your workers from mental health risks at work, such as:

Bullying and harassmentRepeated and unreasonable behaviour towards a worker, or group of workers, which creates a risk to health and safety - eg abuse, unfair criticism, rumours
FatigueMental or physical exhaustion, which reduces a person’s ability to do their work safely and effectively - eg intense mental or physical activity, repetitive tasks, excessive working hours, shift work
StressThe overwhelming feeling of strain and pressure, which can be caused by unrealistic job demands, poor role clarity and lack of support

Evidence suggests the following actions improve mental health outcomes for businesses and deliver a positive return on investment:

  • train managers to improve their understanding of mental health and increase their confidence and skills to support workers
  • implement a mental health skills program to help workers proactively manage their mental health
  • develop a return to work program that supports workers through the recovery at work process see workers compensation and recovery at work

Other ways you could control the risk to mental health include:

  • have an open-door policy and genuine conversations about mental health with your workers
  • develop a policy to prevent and manage bullying and harassment
  • match jobs to workers, based on their skills and abilities
  • clarify roles, responsibilities and expectations
  • involve workers in decision making (see ‘consultation’)
  • make sure workers take breaks, drink enough water, and exercise
  • help workers raise health and safety issues and respond quickly to incidents (see ‘reporting’)
  • connect workers with independent, publicly available support services

Emergency Plans

You must identify emergency situations and plan your response for each. An emergency may be a fire, explosion, gas leak, chemical spill, medical emergency, natural disaster, bomb threat or violence.

Your emergency plan depends on the:

  • type of work you do
  • workplace safety issues
  • size of your workplace
  • location of your workplace
  • number of workers

Your plan should include:

  • information on how to use alarms and alert staff and other people of an emergency
  • contact details and responsibilities of first aid officers, fire wardens, traffic controllers and the like
  • a floor plan, showing the location of emergency exits, utilities, fire extinguishers and first aid supplies
  • emergency contact details of all workers (including out of hours)
  • actions for those with special needs
  • information on how to use and maintain emergency equipment, such as spill kits, fire extinguishers, gas monitors, smoke detectors and sprinklers
  • information on when to review your plan
  • frequency of emergency procedure test - eg fire drills at least every 12 months
  • information about training workers on your emergency plan

First aid

You must give workers access to first aid equipment and facilities. Keep first aid kits close to areas where there is a higher risk of injury or illness, such as the kitchen, warehouse and inside all work vehicles.

Additional first aid requirements vary depending on the nature of the work, type of hazards, workplace size and location, as well as the number of workers. To identify your requirements, see the code of practice for first aid in the workplace.

*Some questions may not apply if you are a sole trader, unless you engage with sub-contractors, labour-hire workers, volunteers, work experience, etc.


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