Raising concerns about workplace safety can sometimes feel difficult, especially if you are worried about potential backlash or negative consequences.
However, it is important to speak up about safety concerns in the workplace to avoid the risk of workplace injuries, both for your own safety and the safety of your colleagues.
While it can be intimidating to speak up about safety concerns, it is a crucial step in ensuring a safe and healthy workplace for all, and in ensuring basic human rights are within your workplace.
Common Workplace Safety Issues
There are many potential safety hazards that can result in serious consequences for you and/or those around you.
Of course, these will vary depending on your work environment, however, there are some common exposures to risk you could be faced with daily in your workplace without even being aware.
Lack of correct safety and protective equipment
A common safety issue is the lack of safety equipment or personal protective equipment (PPE). This can include items like hard hats, safety glasses, and gloves, as well as more specialised equipment like respirators, earplugs and blade guards on commercial saws and machinery. Without the proper safety equipment, employees are at risk of serious injury or even death. Employers should ensure that all employees have access to the appropriate safety equipment and that they are trained in how to use it properly.
The use of faulty or poorly maintained equipment can pose a serious hazard to employees. Some examples include:
- Heavy machinery: This can include forklifts, bulldozers, cranes, and other types of equipment used in construction, manufacturing, and other industries. If these machines are not properly maintained or are in disrepair, they can be dangerous to operate and can cause serious injuries.
- Electrical equipment: Faulty electrical equipment can potentially cause fires or electrocution. This includes items like power tools, computers, and lighting systems.
- Hand tools: Hand tools such as hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches can be dangerous if they are not in good condition. For example, a hammer with a loose head can fly off and cause injury, while a screwdriver with a worn or damaged handle can be difficult to grip and may cause accidents.
- Office equipment: Even seemingly benign office equipment like printers and copiers can pose a risk to employee safety if they are not properly maintained. For example, a printer with a paper jam can cause injuries if an employee tries to force the paper through.
It is important for employers to regularly inspect and maintain all equipment in the workplace to ensure that it is in good working order and safe to use. Any equipment that is found to be faulty or in disrepair should be replaced or repaired immediately to prevent accidents and injuries.
Increased Risk of Slips, Trips, and Falls
These can be caused by uneven surfaces, cluttered walkways, or wet floors.
Although these may seem minor concerns, they can all result in physical injuries – ranging from minor cuts and bruises to more serious injuries such as broken bones, and burns – or even lead to fatalities.
Repetitive tasks or poor posture can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, such as carpal tunnel syndrome or lower back pain. This can cause pain and discomfort and interfere with your ability to work and live your daily life.
Unsafe Chemical Handling
You may be exposed to dangerous chemicals through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact. This can have a variety of negative effects on workers' health, some of which include;
- Skin irritation or chemical burns
- Respiratory issues
- Eye irritation or damage
- Nausea, vomiting, or dizziness
- Allergic reactions
Exposure to dangerous chemicals also can cause long-term health effects, such as cancer, organ damage, or reproductive problems.
You may be exposed to bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens in your workplace.
If you are met with these in your workplace, you are more prone to getting infections which can range from mild to severe and could require medical treatment.
Some people may also have an allergic reaction to certain biological hazards, such as pollen or mould, which can cause symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing.
Fires can be caused by a range of things, from electrical malfunctions and faulty equipment to human error and oversight.
Things with a high likelihood of ignition within your workplace may include:
- Naked flames
- Electrical gear
- Kitchen equipment
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time can lead to hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss can be temporary or permanent, and it can occur gradually or suddenly. Loud noise can also cause tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or other noise in your ear.
In addition to hearing loss and tinnitus, exposure to loud noise can also cause physical discomfort, stress, and difficulty concentrating. Noise levels should ideally be kept below 70 decibels (dB), with those averaging above 85dB for an 8-hour shift, or 82dB for a 12-hour shift likely to cause hearing loss.
Stress and Bullying or Harassment
Workplace stress, bullying, and harassment can all lead to physical and mental health issues – such as anxiety and depression – which can affect your overall well-being, not just your ability to function properly in your role.
If you drive or operate vehicles as part of your job, you are at heightened risk of accidents on the road compared to those whose job does not require them to drive or operate machinery.
This may be caused by things which include:
- Faulty Equipment
This can include machines with broken or malfunctioning parts, machines with faulty electrical wiring, or machines with inadequate safety features.
- Time and Hours Spent on the Road
The duration of time spent driving or operating vehicles can impact your ability to function properly – whether it’s the time, location, consecutive hours working, or a combination of the three.
What Steps Do I Take?
If you are aware of potential risks in your workplace, here are some simple step you can take.
Identify the Problem
The first step in addressing a safety issue is to identify the problem and understand the potential risks and consequences. This may involve observing the work environment, gathering information from colleagues, and reviewing any available data or documentation.
Assess the Risks
Once you have identified the hazards in the workplace, you should evaluate the risks associated with each hazard. This may include considering the likelihood of an accident or injury occurring, as well as the potential severity of the injury or accident.
If you have identified a safety issue, it may be helpful to offer potential solutions or recommendations for addressing the problem. This can help to show you are proactive and engaged in the process of improving workplace safety, and could include suggesting the implementation of:
- Safety procedures
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Safety equipment, such as guards or barriers
It’s important to remember although your suggestions may assist within your workplace, it also may not be your role to implement them.
Keeping your own evidence and record of workplace safety concerns may assist you further down the track. Ways you can do this include;
- Documenting Incidents
Keep a written record of any workplace safety incidents, including the date, time, location, and details of the incident. This should include any injuries sustained and any corrective actions are taken.
- Taking Photos
Use a camera or smartphone to take photos of any workplace safety incident, as well as any equipment or conditions that may have contributed to the incident.
- Recording Conversations
If you discuss workplace safety concerns with your employer or other employees, consider asking them if they consent to the discussion being recorded via audio. You could also make a written record of the conversation.
If the situation is uncomfortable and you feel the conversation should be recorded but the other party does not consent, it’s important to know the Invasion of Privacy Act 1971 states if you are in a private conversation – whether in person, via telephone or other electronic communication (e.g. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.) – you can legally record the conversation in Queensland (as long as it's a conversation you are part of) without any knowledge, notification or consent of the others involved in the conversation.
However, even though a private conversation can be lawfully recorded, these recordings can only be published or distributed to others for very limited reasons such as for court proceedings. You should not distribute recordings without seeking legal advice first.
- Keeping Copies of Relevant Documents
Keep copies of any documents related to workplace safety, such as safety policies, training materials, and inspection reports.
- Using a Workplace Safety App
Many apps are available that allow you to report and document workplace safety incidents and concerns.
Report Your Concerns
By bringing safety issues to the attention of your manager or supervisor, you can help to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring in the workplace. This could be done either in person, by phone, or via email.
Follow up verbal reporting in writing
If you report the concern in person or via phone/video meeting, follow this up with a summary of what was discussed in writing (such as an email) so there is a written record.
Whichever method you feel is most suitable, it's important to be specific and concise when reporting a workplace safety issue – make sure to provide as much detail as possible. It's also a good idea to follow up with your manager or supervisor to make sure the issue is being addressed.
If you are concerned about workplace safety and do not feel comfortable reporting the issue to your manager or supervisor, consider seeking support from a trusted friend, family member, or a workplace safety advocate or organisation.
Email Template to Report a Work Safety Concern
The following email template is provided as an example for internally reporting a workplace safety concern.
Dear [Manager's Name],
I am writing to report an unsafe worksite at [worksite location]. As an employee of [Company Name], it is my responsibility to report any hazards or unsafe conditions that I encounter while on the job.
On [date], while working at the [worksite location], I noticed the following hazards:
[List out specific hazards or unsafe conditions that you observed]
These hazards pose a serious risk to the health and safety of all employees working at this site. It is imperative that immediate action be taken to address these issues and ensure the safety of all employees.
I recommend that the following actions be taken to address these hazards:
[List out specific recommendations for addressing the hazards]
I understand that it is the responsibility of [Company Name] to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. I trust that immediate action will be taken to address these hazards and ensure the safety of all employees at this worksite.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Taking Your Report to Higher Levels
While many work safety issues can be resolved internally, it’s not always possible.
If you are not satisfied with the response to your concerns, you may need to escalate the issue to a higher level of management.
You can report any Queensland work safety issues to Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) by calling 1300 362 128 or filling out WHSQ’s online form, here.
If you’re unsure of what steps to take, you can also reach out to our experts here, who will be able to assist you and guide you with ideas and information.