Business Insight

WHS trends in 2022 Australia

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    What you need to know

    • These trends are relevant to all organisations
    • Proactive management of these risks will lead to productivity and performance, as well as brand and reputation improvement

    What you need to do

    • Understand your legal liability
    • Conduct a risk assessment of the four trending WHS risks at your workplace
    • Consult and collaborate with your workforce on the plan to manage these risks
    • Implement, measure, monitor and report on the health and safety controls to minimise the risks and improve productivity and performance

    How time flies! It’s nearly 12 months since we started Ashurst Risk Advisory, working with Lea Constantine and the Ashurst Legal WHS team to build our legal led consulting model.

    The four trends are relevant to all organisations. They require careful risk assessments and consideration of their growing impact, not only to your people's health and safety, but also to the organisation's productivity, performance, compliance with law, brand and reputation, and its bottom-line.

    Covid-19 and its effect on organisations and their people has meant WHS is a priority risk for all employers, and across all industries. A failure by some leaders to assess, consult and/or minimise WHS risk through an effective hierarchy of controls (or making poor personal decisions) has led to some executives and directors being called out in the media, damaging individual and corporate reputations and brands.

    Here are the top 4 WHS risks to look out for in 2022.

    1. Cognitive health of leaders

    Throughout 2022, organisation's Boards and executives will face a multitude of strategic challenges. Top of the list is the global labour shortage. Australia finds itself dealing with the effects of negative net migration and prolonged closed borders.

    Organisations are now grappling with attracting and retaining top talent in a highly competitive global marketplace. Executives must also focus on re-training their workforce with the digital capability required to successfully execute their transformation agenda and succeed in the current environment.

    Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic forced executives to execute digital transformation rapidly, this also introduced additional cyber security risks that are quickly becoming the norm for Boards and executives to monitor, assess and remediate. Next on the agenda for executives is understanding how to build a high performing and productive workforce, which will likely see many iterations over the next three to five years until the 'sweet spot' is found. Finally, as if these challenges weren't enough, the rising social discourse demands Boards and executives address critical issues such as climate change and inequality.

    Each of these challenges and the legal risks surrounding them is not an 'of the moment' issue. They will persist over the next three to five years, bringing enormous performance and productivity pressures for Boards and executives at the individual and organisational level.

    Boards and executives must be cognitively healthy and 'firing all on cylinders' to meet the challenges they face. Yet, we know few of them rarely stop to ask themselves three fundamental questions:

    1) How cognitively healthy is my C-Suite?

    2) How cognitively healthy are the top 10% of my leader’s brains when they turn up to work each day?

    3) What can I do to maximise the cognitive health, performance and productivity of my top leaders?

    2. Respect@Work, sexual harassment and psychosocial risk

    "…Our most recent national survey conducted in 2018 showed that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread and pervasive. One in three people experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years.

    Underpinning this aggregate figure is an equally shocking reflection of the gendered and intersectional nature of workplace sexual harassment. As the 2018 National Survey revealed, almost two in five women (39%) and just over one in four men (26%) have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were more likely to have experienced workplace sexual harassment than people who are non-Indigenous (53% and 32% respectively).

    Sexual harassment is not a women’s issue: it is a societal issue, which every Australian, and every Australian workplace, can contribute to addressing.

    Workplace sexual harassment is not inevitable. It is not acceptable. It is preventable…" (Quote from Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work report)

    Sexual harassment, and its associated psychosocial risk, is a significant issue in many workplaces. It is both an employment and WHS risk which requires employers to turn their minds to legal and operational issues, including the implementation of a targeted risk management framework. An absence of reporting does not mean that the risk doesn't exist.

    The intersection between employment and WHS laws can sometimes be tricky to manage and it will be important that risks of sexual harassment, and the associated psychosocial issues, are considered and coordinated through both lenses.

    Risk assessments are critical. Do you understand what your legal and reputational risks are? Have you conducted a risk assessment of sexual harassment, assault and psychosocial risk at your workplace?

    3. Covid-19 risk management and its effect on the future of work

    The boundary between work and home has been completely blurred. Varying forms of hybrid work are the "norm". What does this mean for productivity and performance, and the health and safety, both physical and psychological of your people at work?

    Organisations who continue to put the health and safety of their people first and foremost, who conduct full and proper risk assessments, and consult and communicate well, will continue to lead the way in this disruptive ever-changing risk environment.

    A decision making framework based on agreed values, compassion and care, and with people at the centre will lead to a more content and productive workforce giving employers a competitive edge.

    What modelling, assessments and consultation have occurred to manage the future of your workplace in a changing risk environment? What are your legal requirements and how are they best fulfilled?

    4. Health and safety leadership

    This year you can expect your people to be looking up to leaders and asking - what are you doing about my physical and mental safety at work? Workplaces and our communities are more "safety informed" and are acutely aware of the many ways organisational safety culture impacts their personal wellbeing. Leaders must be ready with the tools to deliver safer outcomes.

    In the last year we have seen safety leadership become a key organisational risk internally and externally.

    What tools do you have to support your leaders understand their safety duties? Are your safety measures and reporting reactive or proactive? Are you confident your leadership group is walking the talk collectively? Do your leaders know how to actively discharge their safety duties?

    Get in touch with us

    WHS has become increasingly complex. There are multiple legal and risk issues to manage which can have a direct impact on your people and productivity.

    We'd be happy to talk with you about the legal and risk issues this article touches on.

    Tony Morris, Partner, Ashurst Risk Advisory;
    Lea Constantine, Partner and Global Head of Strategic Advisory, Ashurst Australia;
    Erin Quinane, Director, Head of Cognitive Health, Ashurst Risk Advisory;
    Lauren Brignull, WHS Director, Ashurst Risk Advisory.

    Ashurst Risk Advisory Pty Ltd (ABN 74 996 309 133) provide services under the Ashurst Consulting brand. Ashurst Consulting services do not constitute legal services or legal advice, and are not provided by Australian legal practitioners. The laws and regulations which govern the provision of legal services in the relevant jurisdiction do not apply to the provision of non-legal services.

    For more information about the Ashurst Group and the services offered, please visit

    Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Ashurst Risk Advisory only).

    The information provided is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all developments in the law and practice, or to cover all aspects of those referred to.
    Readers should take legal advice before applying it to specific issues or transactions.

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