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Successful and effective ways to control workplace hazards

October 20, 2023

Anna Klease discusses Work, Health & Safety (WHS) in Australasia and uncovers the highest priorities that directors and executives need to have on their radar.
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A passion for preventing employee injuries and illnesses sits at the heart of Anna Klease’s enthusiasm for Work Health & Safety (WHS) and has led to her role as Prevention Director within WTW’s Workplace Risk practice.

In this episode, Anna talks to Tim Cotton about the most influential ways companies can successfully and effectively control workplace hazards.

Anna says some activities performed in the name of safety may not have the intended outcomes and can even increase risk by creating negative beliefs and attitudes in the workforce. WTW’s work in this field adopts a human-centred work design methodology and Anna shares how predictive modelling techniques can identify high risk predictors even before an incident occurs, allowing companies to prioritise prevention strategies rather than dealing with a ‘cure’.

Episode 4: Successful and effective ways to control workplace hazards

A smarter way to risk in Australasia: Episode 4 — Successful and effective ways to control workplace hazards

TIM COTTON: WTW acknowledges the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia, and their connections to land, sea, and community. We pay our respects to their elders, past and present, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

ANNA KLEASE: We must recognise that we all manage risk, and every day, we're all making decisions.

TIM COTTON: Pass on some wisdom back to help progress another region can be really rewarding I find.

ANNA KLEASE: So safety, it's really a legal requirement for every organisation, whether they're low risk, high risk, small or large.

TIM COTTON: Hello, and welcome to our WTW podcast, A Smarter Way To Risk down under in Australasia Edition. A new series where we cover a range of local and global complex risk topics and how we at WTW are committed to delivering the best outcomes for clients through managing risk in a smarter way.

I'm your host Tim Cotton, and throughout this series, I'm going to bring in a variety of my WTW colleagues here in Australasia who have expertise and specialism in different areas of risk who will all provide their own perspective on what a smarter way to risk means to them and their area of the business. Now, I'm delighted to have with me today Anna Klease, who is a prevention director here in Australasia who heads up our work, health, and safety business within our broader workplace risk practice. Welcome, Anna. It's great to have you join me today.

ANNA KLEASE: Hi, Tim. It's so great to be here. Looking forward to it.

TIM COTTON: Now, Anna, could you tell us a bit about yourself, your role at WTW, and a bit about our work, health, and safety team? I believe when you were growing up, you actually wanted to be a nurse. So while your career path has taken a slight pivot there, your desire to help others has still remained the same.

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, for sure, Tim. And that's why I love safety so much and particularly around consulting. I get to use my skills to help improve workplaces and make them safer for people, but also I get to help my clients every day. So hi, everybody. My name is Anna Klease, and for those of you who don't know me, I run our work, health, and safety consulting team here.

It is a national team and readily available to support your needs. My team forms part of the workplace risk practice where we've now got over 50 colleagues. A practice focuses on providing data led decisions and human-centred approaches to work, cover, prevention, and employment relation practices.

We are unique in that our practice brings together specialists across all these disciplines to solve the most complex workplace risk needs. And my team is all about preventing injuries and illnesses, and I've been lucky enough to select every individual within my team. I believe we bring to bear together the best health and safety consultants within Australia, if not, globally.

For us, while every solution is unique, the fundamental principles within our team around how we operate are not. We certainly ensure every piece of work we deliver is evidence-based, creates a return on investment for our clients and adds value. Through delivering upon these fundamentals, we also ensure we are credible, and reliable, and genuine about achieving an outcome every time for our clients. These are our operating principles, and what I believe really sets us apart.

TIM COTTON: That sounds really interesting, Anna. Thanks for that summary. Obviously, we do a lot of work closely together, so I get to see first hand some of the great work you're doing for clients. If we link back to the theme of this podcast, what would you say are smarter way to risk means to you and your clients?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, absolutely, Tim. Well, for me, this is about delivering value to each client, but helping them make smarter risk decisions that are aligned with their organisational strategic and financial goals. So within safety, we often see that activities often accumulate and are even performed in the name of safety, but may not actually contribute to the safety of the operational workforce and can often increase risk by creating negative beliefs and attitudes in the workforce.

So for us to deliver value and make workplaces safer, it's really important we work with our clients to understand how safety activities performed, actually contribute to minimising risk, and how data and analytics help inform decision-making about what critical risks need attention. Really with our help businesses see where they need to focus. So doing this has the benefit of ensuring resources are available and executed in such a manner that areas or risks with the highest potential to cause harm actually receive the most attention.

And now, this is not a one off process, but businesses need to continually evolve and continually assess risk and opportunities to manage risks so that they can ensure business objectives can be met and to remain competitive in today's market. So we must recognise that managing risks is about integrating risk-based decisions into operational decision-making.

We must recognise that we all manage risk, and every day, we're all making decisions. So this includes strategic decisions, operational decisions, as well as often missed tactical decisions that are made by teams at the coalface. So the way we manage risk at the coalface if executed correctly is one of the most influential components of successfully controlling hazards effectively.

Indeed, it might seem that some steps are often recommended to implement risk management in an organisation seem directed at isolating risk from where it naturally sits, which is the front line. So for us, it's actually about integrating risk management and adopting ways to influence the processes that already exist working with the frontline and operational leaders to enhance risk-based decision-making where it's most effective. And, of course, that's on the front line.

TIM COTTON: I love the way you've explained that, Anna, like every decision we make, whether it's in our personal lives or at work comes with some form of risk. And I think sometimes people approach and manage risks all the time without even realising it. It's a really intriguing way to look at it. You mentioned data and analytics in there as well, how does your team use data and analytics to make informed decisions for clients? Do you have any examples perhaps you could share with us today?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, absolutely. As mentioned at the start, every decision we make in our team is about managing risk and using evidence to inform that decision-making. One of our products is a really good example, so that's predictive analytics. So what we know is that there was wealth of information that's captured in historical worksite, project, human resources, inspection reports, and even environmental data.

So when traditional analysis typically focuses on what's already occurred. But for us, predictive modelling techniques can, however, identify high risk predictors even before an incident occurs. And now this allows companies to put strategies in place that focus on prevention. So by combining our powerful statistical methods across multiple disparate data sources, organisations are really able to understand the drivers of workplace accidents that really previously been unseen.

So three predictive analytics we're really able to help clients understand which work processes or areas have the highest risk factors for incidents. What preventative measures offer the best value when a safety program has budgetary constraints? And what performance metrics can create more actionable insights?

TIM COTTON: I'm actually really interested by that, Anna. How far does the historical data actually go?

ANNA KLEASE: Well, Tim, it can really depend on the outcome the clients wishing to achieve, and it can also depend on whether the organisation has changed over time. For example, if there's been significant changes that are no longer relevant, we might not want to go back too far. But it'll also depend on the availability of data within the organisation. However, the best practice approach would be to look at 5 to 10 years.

TIM COTTON: Yeah, that makes sense. And I could see that being so valuable for clients just to be able to help predict potential incidents before they occur. That would be super helpful for a business so they can act on it and put measures in place to avoid it happening in the first place. So I love that. Does your team have any industries you actually specialise in or would you say you're almost relevant to all types of businesses and industries?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, good question, Tim. I'd love to say we specialise in a particular area, but actually, our team's very much agnostic when it comes to supporting businesses and industries. So safety, it's really a legal requirement for every organisation, whether they're low risk, high risk, small or large. And therefore, it needs to be a focus from every organisation.

And because our safety solutions are tailored and unique, they can fit any industry large or small. So when you work with WTW, you can also leverage the skills across our talented health and safety experts, which means we have an expert for any industry. One day we may be supporting an office-based client become legally compliant, and the next day we may be supporting a hazardous facility manage critical risks. Through our diverse and highly experienced consultants, we have the right experience to solve unique safety challenges, regardless of the risks they face.

TIM COTTON: One thing we definitely aren't shy about promoting here at WTW Anna is that we're a global company with networks all around the world. How do you ensure our work, health, and safety clients receive all the benefits of this global network we have?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, great question. What I'm really noticing is businesses are becoming more international and therefore, it's really important we adapt to these changes and leverage the skills and experience across the globe. More complex demands across the supply chain are also driving this trend, and we need our clients to find a consultant that really can solve their unique challenges internationally.

So we've got skilled and experienced health and safety experts across the globe where we leverage their skills and experience to deliver value for our clients. We meet regularly with our international colleagues to leverage the experience across our international teams to deliver the best products and solutions for our clients.

For example, our Australian team have worked really closely with our neighbours in Asia to develop our Asia-Pacific capabilities and products across the region. Now, by doing this, we've really been able to leverage the skills and strengths of our teams to deliver solutions that are best practice internationally, while really uniquely tailoring them to the nuances of the local landscape with local know how. So if you're in an international role and looking for a one-stop shop for your workplace risk needs, we can definitely provide a solution.

TIM COTTON: One thing I love about having that global network is the cross collaboration with colleagues like, yes, time zone challenges can occur in Australasia, we know that. But being able to learn something new from across the globe or perhaps pass on some wisdom back to help progress another region can be really rewarding I find. So I definitely agree with you there, Anna.

Just to go back to our local market here, are there any really hot or topical risks at the moment which are particularly prevalent for work, health, and safety in Australasia at the moment, and if so, how are your team approaching it?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, look, psychosocial risks got a lot of attention. And what we see on the landscape is work design being really big for us and where businesses are going to look to for the future. So really from a safety perspective, good work design provides the highest level protection against harm and it's ever really the most effective way to manage risk.

So the health and safety legislation also makes it really clear that workplaces must design work and manage hazards and risks to ensure they're eliminated or minimised so far as reasonably practicable. So this can really effectively by cheap by eliminating or minimising hazards at the source before risks are even introduced into the workplace. It really can be also about structuring work tasks, demands, supports, and work processes to reduce hazards.

So when looking at work design, it's important to recognise, it must be considered from the physical biomechanical cognitive, and as I mentioned, psychosocial perspective. So typically what we've seen is these characteristics are often studied from distinct disciplinary approaches which can actually inhibit a holistic approach to solving complex work design problems.

It's therefore really important that we adopt an interdisciplinary approach, which is where WTW is different. So applying these principles at WTW, we really adopt a human-centred work design methodology. So we start by identifying the context of the work. So that's the location, the physical environment, limitations, constraints, workforce composition, and even the workforce background.

So this starts followed by studying the task performed by workers and the work undertaken. And really through these processes, we're able to seek to uncover the reasons behind any possible gaps between what is the workers imagined so they're things that's work in prescribed documents and what's communicated verbally, and how work is actually done. So that's how works executed in real operating being conditions.

When work hazards are identified and the interaction of these factors are found to impact productivity, wellbeing, health and safety, our approach really seeks to eliminate or minimise these to manage and to optimise work design. So once tasks are identified, as I mentioned, the task components we really consider the physical, mental capabilities of workers. And how they interact with the tools, equipment, social, physical, and technical environment.

From here, our teams really map the conditions for optimal work-- human work and system performance, and we facilitate a co-design process with the engagement of workers, team leaders, and other relevant stakeholders. And we really find this step is paramount. So really through our design, work design brings people and teams together to really determine the solutions that widely accepted and supported by empirical evidence. So really through work design, we achieve the optimal balance between productivity, health wellbeing, and the safety of employees.

TIM COTTON: Well said, Anna. I've got one more for you. What would you say are the emerging risks in 2024 and beyond which should be firmly on the radar for directors and officers of organisations?

ANNA KLEASE: Yeah, for sure. Look, we're really seeing pressure mounting from the community to hold senior members to account for health and safety, and we're seeing that reflected in policy. So we've got currently six Australian states that have passed industrial manslaughter legislation and they're Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, Northern Territory and the ACT.

We've also seen a bill pass, so industrial manslaughter will be soon introduced into South Australia. And recently, Australia's workplace relations ministers have also agreed to insert industrial manslaughter considerations into the model laws. So no doubt we'll see this introduced into the remaining states shortly.

So really broadly, the laws are designed to act as a deterrent to conduct which may seriously endanger workers and a punishment for business operators who fail to ensure the safety of personnel under their responsibilities. Did you know, under the model laws, individuals could be liable for up to 20 years imprisonment? What we're also seeing is more high profile cases becoming more prevalent and directors being sentenced to jail.

So in fact, in 2021 and 2022, there were $55 million in financial penalties issued to companies and the average penalty was $121,000. So we've seen 260 injury prosecutions and 93 fatal injury prosecutions over that time, and 93% of organisations actually entered a guilty plea.

We've also seen changes to insurances for health and safety breaches enter the health and safety model laws, and no doubt will see these changes adopted by the states where it's not already provisions. So what these mean are there's prohibitions against insurers for indemnifying a WHS fine or a penalty.

So really understanding these risks and the needs of our clients, we wanted to introduce a product that wasn't just mundane safety training and that could be delivered by an internal health and safety team. So this is where our idea of our mock court training session really came about. So a mock court training session is a simulated court case, and it really offers a real life element to training.

So our mock court cases are simulated in a court environment, and they're led by a legal professionals and really based on actual cases. So when we do this, each cases highlights the typical failings experienced by an employer and helps really drive a message around mitigating risk. So we often put officers in the hot seat driving safety messages directly in a way that actually gets traction. Our clients have told us that they think it was the best safety training they've ever attended, and it's really influenced how they manage health and safety decision-making going forward.

TIM COTTON: That's a nice compliment, isn't it? I think we can clearly see the heat is on for directors and officers to adhere to correct legislation. And as you mentioned, there's some significant penalties for those that their mind boggling and they're crazy, so I think if that's not enough of a wake up call for them, then I'm not sure what is going to be, to be honest.

I must say Anna, I have seen a few videos of your work in the mock court sessions you've run. They look fantastic and so engaging. I definitely want to come along to one of those one day that you run. That's all we have time for today. It's been great chatting to you, Anna. Thank you so much for those insights you've provided us. I'm sure our listeners have gained a lot out of it. We know the work that you and your team are doing in the work health and safety space continues to be essential, and I think that scrutiny for organisations is only going to keep growing.

From a personal perspective, Anna, we obviously do lots of work together, and it's always a pleasure working with you and your team. So thanks again for joining me today. I really appreciate it.

ANNA KLEASE: Thanks, Tim. Really enjoyed catching up.

TIM COTTON: And that's all we have time for today. So until next time. It's bye for now.

SPEAKER: If you'd like to hear the remainder of our Smarter Way To Risk podcast series, we encourage you to stay tuned on our WTW website. Follow us on LinkedIn, and listen to our latest content wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Tim Cotton
Digital Marketing Lead - Australasia

Tim is our Digital Marketing Lead – Australasia based in our Melbourne office who has been with WTW since 2016. Since conceptualising the idea of this inaugural podcast series, Tim has played the ongoing role of director, producer and host.

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Anna Klease
Prevention Director | Workplace Risk Practice

Anna leads our Work, Health and Safety (WHS) team which forms part of our broader Workplace Risk Practice. Her team assist clients in understanding their ongoing obligations under WHS legislation and partner with them to implement the right risk prevention strategies for their workplace.

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