The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023–2033 establishes a shared national vision for WHS and a platform for improving workplace health and safety and reducing workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
Released by Safe Work Australia last week, the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023–2033 has been agreed to and endorsed by all states and territories, the federal government, ACTU, AiGroup and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
It sets out a shared and ambitious national vision for improving WHS in Australia and reducing work related fatalities, injuries and illnesses. It is ‘the result of combined efforts and a fundamental commitment to collaboration from all governments, industry, workers and their representatives’.
At the core of the Strategy is the aim and commitment to taking a more unified and national approach to workplace health and safety across all jurisdictions. For this reason, those responsible for workplace health and safety at all levels of the organisation need to familiarise themselves with the strategy and consider its contents as part of regular Safety Management System reviews.
Overview of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023–2033
The strategy's overarching goal is to reduce workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. As such it identifies clear and measurable targets, including:
30% reduction in worker fatalities caused by traumatic injuries
20% in the frequency of serious WorkCover claims resulting in one or more weeks off work
15% reduction in the frequency of permanent impairment
3.5% (or below) overall incidence rate of work‑related injury or illness
20% reduction in the frequency of work-related respiratory disease and no new cases of accelerated silicosis
The Strategy prioritises six industries, which are responsible for 70% of fatalities and 58%
of serious workers’ compensation claims:
health care and social assistance
public administration and safety
Identified within the Strategy are eight key challenges that SafeWork believes will require ‘sophisticated’ and ‘holistic’ approaches to address. These include:
Management of psychosocial risks and hazards, including high work demands, low job support and harmful behaviours such as bullying and sexual harassment.
Health and safety vulnerability which prevents some workers from raising issues or concerns and tends to affect younger workers, those that work alone, are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, or who are employed in labour-hire positions.
Support for small businesses, which typically have fewer resources available to dedicate to understanding and effectively managing health and safety risks in the workplace.
Rise of artificial intelligence, automation and related technologies in the workplace that have the potential to replace higher-risk manual tasks but could also create new psychosocial hazards.
The changing nature of work, which means more people will have multiple jobs and be employed through the ‘gig economy’, combined with a trend that sees multiple employers sharing WHS responsibilities under WHS laws.
Changing workforce demographics, including an increase in the number of older workers in the workforce and labour shortages in key industries such as agriculture, health care and social assistance, which could lead to an increase in the number of vulnerable workers.
Hybrid work models, which may change or create new health and safety risks that employers need to manage.
Climate related risks, including extreme weather events, heat, flooding and diseases that may disrupt operations, along with new technologies, injuries and roles that will need to be managed as a result of measures designed to reduce or limit climate change.
More complex supply chains, which will require employers to ‘consider WHS risk more systematically’.
Realising the vision and achieving the goal
To address the challenges, and achieve the targets and overarching goal, the Strategy identifies three key ‘enablers’:
Embedding good WHS practices in all workplaces, across all industries and cohorts.
Building and deepening knowledge and understanding of WHS risks – at all levels.
Consistent and effective consultation and collaboration between employers, workers, government, industry and unions.
In addition, it sets out five key ‘actions’ that need to be taken to enable change:
Raising awareness and building knowledge and understanding at all levels of the community through effective, coordinated information campaigns.
National coordination, sharing of resources and collaboration across all Australian jurisdictions.
Timely data and intelligence gathering and information sharing to expand the knowledge base and assist in addressing current and emerging challenges and concerns.
Enhanced health and safety leadership across government, industry, organisations, employers and workers, with a focus on building a health and safety culture that embraces the systematic management of WHS risk.
Maintaining a strong focus on compliance and enforcement, with a nationally consistent approach as set out in the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy.