Small Business: Key OHS processes to manage your risks


Our consultants are regularly asked to develop management systems and practices to meet contract, legislative and business needs. In many cases, we are asked to ‘cover off the basics’ to ensure that our customers have a practical, straightforward process to cover off their Occupational Health and Safety liabilities.

But what are the basics? How are the basics tied together? What does ‘practicable’ mean when it comes to legal obligations? These grey areas provide many small businesses with concern as they are seeking to do the right thing but often get caught up in the detail and can miss the forest for the trees.

This article does not seek to outline how a system can be setup to your business, but give you the reader an idea of the key concepts which need to be included to allow a robust OHS management system to be developed in any business.

  1. Understand your responsibilities

As the area is a complex field with various pieces of guidance and obligations, the business should have at least one person with knowledge of core OHS legislative requirements. This can be developed through your own research on the Worksafe Victoria or Safe Work Australia websites into issues affecting your industry, participation in Worksafe week or getting in touch with a local expert.

This is often where a relationship with a consultant becomes invaluable but a certificate IV training course in OHS for a staff member will give your business a good understanding.

  1. Identify, assess and treat your OHS risks

Once you have an understanding of your obligations, next you need to understand your business using your ‘OHS lens’, meaning you need to critically look at the requirements of your project and break down each process to its’ core risks (this can be OHS risk but also include others like contract, reputation, financial) and assign a likelihood and consequence of each process.

Once you have the risk (likelihood x consequence) of each process you undertake, then risk controls can be explored by referring to regulator websites, industry experts or information search into the hazards of each process.

This process will allow you to develop high level ‘action plans’ or ‘risk registers’ which you can use to track the way risk is managed in your business.

2a. Training & Consultation

Training and regularly consulting about OHS risk with your employees is critical to take the ‘risk assessment’ process from being a paper based exercise to having tangible impact on the operational risks faced by your employees and contractors.

Hopefully, the risk treatment exercise has identified specialist training required as well as a an ‘induction’ for your staff to ensure they are brought into the business know relevant OHS risk treatments required of them (i.e. PPE, procedures).

Training can also include mental health strengthening such as conflict management, resilience and stress management in workplaces where the risks presented are in the mental health space.

2b. Schedule and record

Scheduling and recording is the area where most companies, large and small, struggle to manage as working for the business often cuts time away from working to enhance the business. However, in the area of OHS this is the area most critical area in establishing a defensible position in the event of litigation, regulator or insurance review of your processes.

Find a simple way to schedule and complete necessary processes (risk assessment, incident reports, safety meetings) to allow you records when or if you are asked to produce them. We like to use calendars and cameras on mobile phones to establish basic records for companies working in the field.

2c. Treatment review

Make time to regularly look at the risk challenges to your business and where a process is changed, added or modified in any way, review your initial ‘risk register’ and ensure treatments to OHS risks are updated accordingly.

  1. Understand the return to work process

The final piece of advice we give to employers of small businesses is to have a contact whom can help you understand the return to work process, your rights and obligations. This is best taught by attending a ‘Return to Work Coordinators course’ or by making contact with an independent consultant to assist you to navigate the expectations and rights placed on the business when returning an employee.

For more information regarding what a ‘basic’ system looks like, contact our experienced consultants to discuss how your OHS management activities can be developed, scheduled, completed to a good standard and recorded to protect your people, contracts and business.

P: 1300 123 647