OH&S requirements for small businesses

Running a small business bears a myriad of challenges ranging from marketing and branding campaigns to all forms of legal obligations you may not even be aware of. Unfortunately, ignorance is not a defence, and the effects of not taking any action may cost an arm and a leg on top of other severe penalties.

Lucky for you, this article helps point out the 3 most common OH&S requirements which are overlooked by small business owners and how to solve or rectify them.

The general idea of OH&S requirements revolves around the health, safety or welfare for those in your workplace. The list of individuals you are responsible for include customers, employees, visitors, contractors, volunteers and suppliers.

By using a little bit of common sense, if something in your office could potentially harm your customers, employees or any other person, it probably is in breach of your OH&S requirements.

Sole traders may be subject to OH&S obligations even if you do not have any employees. If you are a sole trader and you run a shop or office that is accessible to members of the public, you are required to take all measurements to avoid putting them at risk.

3 Most Common Overlooked OH&S Requirements

  1. Evacuation Protocols

Businesses of all sizes are required to have an evacuation procedure which should be developed through consultation with employees. It is crucial that you, as the small business owner, consult your employees before drawing up the evacuation plan as this will help optimise the movement of your employees in an emergency.

The procedures in your evacuation plan should be simple to understand, flexible to suit various circumstances, written out in black and white, distributed to all employees, and should be displayed where everyone can see it. The plan must also be tested to ensure it works, for example, WorkSafe Victoria recommends small business owners to practice the emergency plan with employees at regular intervals e.g. every 6 months.

Although there is no legal requirement to appoint a fire warden, it is important to do so to help meet your OH&S requirements in relation to emergency evacuation plans and procedures.

  1. Identifying Hazards

Remember how we mentioned that if something in your office could potentially harm someone, you’re probably in breach of your OH&S requirements? Well, you better start checking for any hazards around your office.

A hazard checklist will come in handy when trying to identify workplace hazards. Also, if there was a previous incident where an accident or injury occurred at your workplace, analysing that data will help identify the source of the issue. Other methods of identifying hazards include consultations with your employees (and any elected OH&S representatives you may have), analysis of work processes, and obtaining advice from OH&S specialists for your industry.

The final step of your risk assessment (i.e. the solution) is the need to determine the types of control measures required to be put in place. According to the Code of Practice for Workplace Amenities and Facilities issued by the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health, the hierarchy of control is as follows:

  • Elimination of the hazard;
  • Substitution of the hazard with a less hazardous alternative;
  • Isolation of the hazard;
  • Engineering control to modify or safeguard the hazard;
  • Administrative control over the hazard, for example, announcing the existence of the hazard to employees so they are made aware;
  • Personal protective equipment should only be considered where the alternative control measures are not practicable or to help increase the level of protection of individuals.

Do note that control measures should not be regarded as being mutually exclusive and may be used concurrently.

  1. Testing and Tagging of Electrical Equipment

The testing and tagging of electrical equipment used at your workplace is part of your OH&S obligations as a small business owner. If it plugs into a wall, it needs to be tested and tagged.

Of course the specific requirements for testing and tagging electrical equipment depends on the type of work the electrical equipment is used for. For example, information for inspecting and testing electrical equipment used as part of construction work is specifically laid out in the Electrical Installations – Construction and demolition sites standards (AS/NZS 3012:2010).

To stay compliant with your OH&S requirements for testing and tagging of your electrical equipment, be sure to follow the suggestions made by the Electrical Safety Standard.

Should you require further assistance in complying with your OH&S requirements, you can visit your local WorkSafe website via Safe Work Australia. As a small business owner, you may qualify for certain incentives such as the WorkSafe OHS Essentials Program, which is a free safety consultation service for “Victorian small businesses with limited OHS information and knowledge and fewer than 20 employees or $1m in remuneration.”

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