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Managing Work Health & Safety obligations for contingent workers in Australia

Risk & Compliance
CXC Global7 min read
CXC GlobalMarch 14, 2024
CXC Global

The critical need for effective health and safety management

Workplace health and safety management is a critical – not to mention, mandatory – responsibility of employers in Australia. Since 1922, Federal Governments have enforced ‘Australian Standards’ to protect workers and to provide guidelines to employers for maintaining a safe working environment – irrespective of industry, job type, role or seniority.

However, as we all know, not all workplaces are equal. In industries where physical safety presents a higher potential risk – like building, manufacturing, mining, healthcare and transportation – a large portion of the workforce are often made up of contract workers. And worryingly, these workers experience higher levels of injuries in the workplace than their permanent counterparts. That being said, white collar work environments also carry risks and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, injury is occurring in these environments at a higher rate for contingent workers, too.

The Occupational Safety Act (2011) provides guidance for employers to maintain safe workplaces. It’s a complex piece of legislation, that outlines an employer’s duty of care to ensure, as is reasonable and practical, the health and safety of ALL their workers. Under the Act, a worker is defined as a person carrying out work in any capacity for the organisation. This includes:

  • a contractor or subcontractor; or
  • an employee of a contractor or subcontractor; or
  • an employee of a labour hire company who has been assigned to work in the person’s business.

International and local research both point to a higher incidence of injuries for contingent workers, than for employees. And with a growing number of Australian states introducing industrial manslaughter laws (which, upon conviction, carries prison time), safety at work is starting to be taken more seriously.

So today, we’ve delved into how your business can go about ensuring your contingent workers are both safe and protected in your workplace.

Key strategies for enhancing contractor health and safety

Extending health and safety training to contractors

Health and safety training programs are the key to maintaining a safe working environment. And although consistent training must be provided to all workers regularly, the reality is, often contingent and contract workers are overlooked in these programs.

HR professionals must provide employees and contingent workers with access to training, workplace policies, safety resources, and approved procedures to address health and safety concerns. Safety in a professional work environment includes:

  • Ensuring the environment is absent of bulling and harassment.
  • Ensuring the organisations is adhering to obligations in preventing sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimisation.
  • Establishing workplaces where workstations and surrounding environments prevent repetitive stress injuries, back pain, tripping likelihood, or other unsafe physical factors.

The problem with keeping contingent workers safe is often based on who’s responsible for their wellbeing. HR believe it’s the responsibility of the line manager to provide the requisite training and support; line managers believe it’s HR’s duty. Hence, a huge disparity tends to exist between the training provided to permanent workers, compared to contractors. And in this confusion, injuries occur.

There are proven steps you can take, to adhere to a fully compliant workplace for all workers. The following will keep your contractors and employees safe:

Understand your obligations as an employer

This involves understanding how to:

  • Identify potential hazards in the workplace.
  • Comply with relevant legislation such as the Work Health & Safety Act.
  • Develop risk management solutions and processes.
  • Know what your duty of care responsibilities towards your worker are, in line with all the relevant legislation.
  • Provide adequate WHS training programs for both employees and contingent workers.

Understand workers’ obligations

Communicate these to both permanent and contingent workers. All workers must:

  • Follow instructions.
  • Adhere to policy and procedures.
  • Conduct themselves in a way that does not cause harm to themselves or others.
  • Report any danger, risks, or other concerns to their immediate supervisor.

Assess workplace policies and procedures

It is crucial to review your organization’s policies regularly to keep abreast of the latest regulations and legal changes and to ensure consistent identification and control of all hazards and risks. This includes conducting routine evaluations of all pertinent workplace policies, procedures, and documents, such as:

  • Health and safety plans.
  • Codes of conduct.
  • Risk assessment and management.
  • Safe work method statements.
  • Job safety analysis documents.
  • Hazardous materials registers.
  • Emergency evacuation plans.
  • Incident reporting.

Commit to ongoing training

It is crucial to review your organization’s policies regularly to keep abreast of the latest regulations and legal changes and to ensure consistent identification and control of all hazards and risks. This includes conducting routine evaluations of all pertinent workplace policies, procedures, and documents, such as:

  • Health and safety plans.
  • Codes of conduct.
  • Risk assessment and management.
  • Safe work method statements.
  • Job safety analysis documents.
  • Hazardous materials registers.
  • Emergency evacuation plans.
  • Incident reporting.

Commit to ongoing training

After reviewing policies and establishing systems, it is crucial to commit to continuous workforce training – for all workers – to maintain best safety practices in the workplace. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Tailor training to match the individual’s role, covering theoretical knowledge and practical skills like hazard identification and risk management.
  • Quality employee training not only ensures compliance but also enhances staff morale, showing that their safety is a top priority for the company.

Include WHS training in contingent worker’s onboarding

This involves:

  • Every time a new contractor or contingent worker commences in your business, establish a routine safety training protocol before they commence their contract, as part of the onboarding process.
  • Allocate responsibility for this training, as a company standard (the HR lead, or the immediate supervisor of the worker).
  • Assess the worker’s understanding of the training and confirm in writing, their willingness to comply.
  • Include safety training in all written and company policy materials, issued to the contingent worker during onboarding.
  • For contingent workers in longer contracts, provide this training on a regular basis (e.g. every 6 months).
  • If the worker is redeployed in your business, ensure this training is provided again – either by HR or by their new supervisor.

Inclusion of contractors in injury management programs

An injury management program is a structured and organised initiative that covers all facets of injury management with the aim of facilitating the best possible return to work for employees. This encompasses treatment, rehabilitation, retraining, claims management, and employment management strategies.

Involving contractors in injury management programs is crucial to keep all workers safe at work. It’s also important to include all workers in the injury management program so your business can determine whether any trends regarding injury, can be identified and addressed. Only by monitoring injury occurrence consistently across the entire workforce, can you truly prevent ongoing or further injury and claims.

In the deployment of your injury management program, contract workers need to have the same exposure, rights and inclusions as permanent employees. By including contract workers as a permanent fixture in your injury management program, they will see your business as one that cares equally about their non-permanent workers as they do their employees. And that in the unlikely and unfortunate event that injury occurs, they’ll be looked after.

So, for contingent workers, there’s no stress, no fear of exclusion if they’re injured, and absolute certainty that their ability to return to work with your business, is adequately facilitated (circumstances permitting).

Building a culture of health and safety for contractors

Workplace culture has emerged as a key differentiator for companies aiming to attract top talent. Today, contractors are not solely driven by financial incentives; they also look for an environment where they are appreciated, assisted, looked after and in sync with the company’s mission. A positive culture nurtures a feeling of inclusion and motivates contractors to perform at their best.

And when it comes to health and safety in the workplace, culture is paramount for contingent workers.

You see, often the culture of a business is built solely for the employees, while contractors are left to fend for themselves. They’re not included in typical company events or milestones (in an official sense), and the behaviour and expectation of employees can leave contingent workers feeling isolated and excluded. And from a health and safety standpoint, this is concerning.

Why? Because when it comes to safety at work, culture plays a big role in protecting everyone.

If your business has a culture of awareness and adherence to safety in the workplace, this will permeate through to your contingent workers. And that’s what’s so important here – your business needs a culture of health and safety awareness for everyone.

The benefits of this approach are many when it comes to your contract workers:

  • You’ll attract better contractors because they know yours is a quality workplace for their professional growth and experience.  And on this basis, they’ll share this information with other contractors, and be willing to return to work with you, should the opportunity arise.
  • Your contract workers will be more engaged as they’ll feel safe and secure in the knowledge that your business will look after them in terms of their health and safety, as per your permanent employees.

Committing to contractor safety as a priority

Managing workplace health and safety across the entire working population of your business – employees and contingent talent alike – will result in a multitude of positive outcomes for your business.

You’ll attract (and re-attract) better contract workers.

You’ll reduce and mitigate legal risks.

You’ll be compliant with the current legislation.

And importantly, you’ll provide the care and support that your workers deserve.

So, the downsides are zero.

We encourage you to consider and adopt the various strategies we’ve outlined here for the health and safety of your workplace. And to keep your business a positive place for all workers, to keep you legislatively compliant and able to attract the best talent available. We can help guide you in this process, or we can manage the process for you. Get in touch to learn more.


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About CXC


At CXC, we want to help you grow your business with flexible, contingent talent. But we also understand that managing a contingent workforce can be complicated, costly and time-consuming. Through our MSP solution, we can help you to fulfil all of your contingent hiring needs, including temp employees, independent contractors and SOW workers. And if your needs change? No problem. Our flexible solution is designed to scale up and down to match our clients’ requirements.

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