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Clear Communication, Understanding, and Health and Safety

It is well known amongst Safety people, supervisors and managers that it is the duty of every business to provide information, instruction and training to its staff for staff to be able to conduct their jobs safely and with the least risk.

Regarding communicating to staff, there is also the requirement set out in clause 39 of the WHS Regulation that WHS information, instruction, and training provided to workers has to be “provided in a way that is readily understandable by any person to whom it is provided.”

In the work environment there may be unseen variables that could impede the objective of ensuring that the information, instruction, and training is well received. It's not just a matter of “language.” Things like the recipient's “willingness”, “receptiveness”, and the worker’s mindset towards their job and how they interact with people has to be taken into account. We have also heard from some workplaces where there are workers who are shy or not confident in their command of English, that supervisors may encounter a worker who politely nods their head yet does do not understand what they are being told. This could lead to serious consequences.

Workers too have a duty under WHS law to ensure their own safety and the safety of others whom they work with and to “reasonably comply” with instructions from their supervisors and employer. They do need to understand what they are being told or asked to do.

Communication misunderstandings between supervisors and workers can lead to injuries and in some cases has resulted in work fatalities.

Supervisors need to ensure that what they are telling or asking the person to do is “readily understandable” and that the worker has understood and knows what they are being asked or told.

Whenever there has been a work fatality, the officers of the business (directors, CEOs, other executive officers) will inevitably be investigated into how well they upheld their responsibilities to ensure that the business (PCBU) met and demonstrated its primary duty to ensure the existence and successful operation of the WHS management system. Officers may be held personally liable and face large fines or jail time if found guilty in a Court of Law. All prosecutions of businesses where a work fatality has occurred have always come back to this primary duty.

Something seemingly small like nodding in the affirmative when one does not understand what is being said to them can lead to devastating results. It has happened. This is not to be taken lightly.

To avoid situations where injuries or even fatalities may occur in the workplace due to communication failures between staff you may want to consider including communication awareness in the training of your supervisors and workers. Practical knowledge of and appreciation of this can help a business attain and maintain a safe workplace for all.

21st May 2020

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