How many of us have a deep and confident understanding of the ins and outsof WorkSafe’s OHS requirements? Unless OHS is your trade or you work for Worksafe, it’s doubtful how many of us could claim full expertise on the topic. In light of the new changes that have recently come into effect from 18 June 2017, we thought it was high time for a summary of what they mean for your business. Who better to discuss the impact than Group Leader of Hazardous Industries & Industry Practice at WorkSafe, Steve Thornely. If you attended the Master Plumbers OHS themed Business Breakfast at Mantra Bell City in Preston in August, you would have seen Steve speak with his colleague Cameron Ellis about the changes to the OHS Regulations.

 Alarmingly, construction work is responsible for nearly a quarter of all workplace fatalities, despite constituting less than 10 per cent of the total workforce. The leading causes are related to falls, structural collapse, contact with electricity, working near mobile plant or working near live traffic. A statistic shared by Steve that may take you by surprise is that out of the six fatal construction related incidents this year, five of the victims were over the age of 55. This is a sombre reminder that no matter how experienced a worker is, precaution must always be exercised and the correct processes followed.

To start getting the message out to construction workers early in their careers about the importance of safety, Industry Education Officers have been engaged to provide a crossover between industry and education providers with a view to informing students about their OHS rights and responsibilities. Steve started as a plumbing apprentice and worked for 17 years mainly in mechanical services, then spent three years as a trade instructor and OHS advisor before joining WorkSafe in 2008. He is an inspector and group leader in the hazardous industries area. He advocates some simple control measures you can introduce to reduce serious injuries at work.

‘I manage a team of construction inspectors in the Melbourne area. We respond to complaints and incidents and investigate what is going on in large construction sites.’ Unfortunately we are busier than we want to be. A 53 year old construction worker in Maidstone recently lost his life due to a fall from heights. It could have been avoided. Fall risks are definitely one area of concern. In terms of prevention, there is so much that can be done to prevent injuries. It’s all about the employers and contractors taking responsibility for OHS in their workplaces and about workers being encouraged to speak up about health and safety concerns before someone is injured.’

‘Everyone has some level of commitment to health and safety, but it’s fair to say some people are more committed afteran incident than before it. So many people think it will never happen to them – until it does. Every incident is preventable. I always say that I go to
incidents not accidents. Something could always have been done somewhere along the chain of events to make sure it didn’t happen.’

Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS), detail emergency procedures concerning engulfment, construction induction training, and industry education. These findings are designed as a go to reference from industry professionals to take your knowledge to the next level and get your workforce up to date with the changes, from a person who examines and investigates these issues every day.

Steve’s professional opinion on these areas can help your business bring its safety plan up to date.


‘SWMS are much more than just a piece of paper. They are an agreement between you and your workers about how to identify the risks onsite and how to control them. They will identify what risks are present and which controls can be put in place to avoid them, as well
as allocate responsibility. A change in the 2017 OHS Regulations is that the content has to be expressed in a way that is readily accessible and readable to persons using it. Our intention is that it really speaks to the workers. We envisage it as a living, breathing document that
can be changed if the need arises. Every worker on site also has to be aware of it, and aware of how to access it.’

‘SWMS are required for “high risk construction work,” of which there are 19 different categories. For plumbers, this can be loosely categorised as ‘jobs where there is a risk of falling more than two metres; jobs involving demolition or asbestos; working around powered mobile plant and working around a trench or shaft more than 1.5 metres deep. Even if you think you have controlled the risk you still need a SWMS by law.’

‘The length of time it takes to put a SWMS together depends on how complex the job is. Most companies have a generic SWMS saved on their computer, which they adapt to suit different jobs. WorkSafe inspectors would expect to see a job specific SWMS. It’s much more
than just a bit of paper.’

‘I’ve heard some employers express frustration when they think it takes longer to complete the SWMS than it does to do the actual job. I think that’s small picture thinking. Completing a SWMS ensures that the job has been thought through properly and well planned. What’s a couple of minutes out of your day worth compared to the heartache of work mates, family and friends of someone who is killed or injured at work?’

‘Workers should be consulted about the SWMS and encouraged to provide input. This ensures that the SWMS is job specific and the workers will have buy in and be more likely to adhere to it. I’ll always encourage a company that goes above and beyond with OHS. It’s commendable. We encourage consultation as much as possible.’

There is a document on the WorkSafe Victoria website that has a sample SWMS template. 


‘Another change to the OHS Regulations is the new requirement to establish emergency procedures if there is a risk of a person becoming engulfed by soils or other material. This obviously has big implications for most plumbers working in the industry. Master Plumbers OHS Officer Rod Tresidder has done a lot of work on this of late. The main concern is that people are usually inclined to jump in and save the person, but this can put themselves, others and the person who is engulfed at a higher risk.’

‘Problems are exacerbated in the heat of the moment, where common sense goes out the window. The first step is likely to involve contacting Emergency Services. It is crucial that the site address and incident location within the site is clearly accessible and known by all. If you’ve got it documented, it gives you more insight at a time of crisis. As it is a part of the new regulations, it is law, so it is something you need to carefully consider for any job where there is a risk.’

Construction Induction training

‘The Construction Induction Card’ which used to be known as the ‘Red Card’ is the basic OHS induction training for the construction industry. The Construction Induction Card is a prerequisite for all workers, including apprentices, working on Victorian construction sites. Other states and territories have different coloured cards and we accept them as long as they were issued by that state or territory.’

Industry education

‘Changing the culture of workplace safety is all about education. We are doing what we can to open up the discussion and make it natural to talk about safety. It’s important that young people can feel comfortable to raise a safety issue without being ridiculed. This is especially
important to instil in young workers.’ ‘Young people need to know it’s OK to speak up about safety and act as soon as they think something isn’t right. I would advise all project managers and senior staff to make safety a key part of the daily conversations. Your entire workforce will benefit from it and it will pay dividends for all concerned.’