Workplace culture

To inform the design and successful implementation of work health and safety policy Safe Work Australia is conducting research that focuses on understanding workplace cultures that drive work health and safety behaviour at both individual and organisational levels. Understanding differences in belief systems, attitudes, perceptions and motivations of different actors in the work health and safety regulatory system is important in gauging whether new policy will be successful in achieving its intended purpose.

Over the past few years Safe Work Australia has conducted surveys examining work health and safety motivations, attitudes, perceptions and behaviours in the context of the introduction of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws in most Australian jurisdictions.  

Perceptions of work health and safety

In 2012 Safe Work Australia conducted the Perceptions of Work Health and Safety Survey that aimed to provide a baseline measure of work health and safety attitudes, beliefs and actions shortly after the model WHS laws were introduced. The survey targeted four types of respondents: employers, sole traders, health and safety representatives and workers. There were four separate questionnaires tailored for the four types of respondents. All questionnaires covered similar themes and questions.

In 2014 Safe Work Australia conducted the Health and Safety at Work: Your Experience and Costs Survey to measure the impact of model WHS laws on businesses 18–30 months after the laws were introduced in most Australian jurisdictions. The survey sought information on sources of work health and safety information, awareness and effect of officer duties, perceptions of work health and safety and risk management activities and cost of adopting and complying with the model WHS laws.

Reports published to date are:

Motivations, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills project

Project One

The first stage of the Motivations, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills (MAPS) project aimed to establish a baseline measure of the socio-psychological factors that drive behaviour and intentions to behave in response to work health and safety obligations. Data were collected in 2009–10 by computer assisted telephone interviews from 762 Australians aged 18 and over who worked in the five industry groups at high risk of occupational injuries including Agriculture, forestry and fishing, Construction, Health and community services, Manufacturing, and Transport and storage. The following reports highlight some key findings:

Project Two

The second phase of the project ra n from 2011 to 201 5. This work was conducted in partnership with The Australian National University under an ARC-funded project. It investigated the role that motivations, attitudes, perceptions, knowledge and skills, social norms and other socio-psychological factors play in shaping the compliance behaviour of individuals and organisations and how organisations and individuals address work health and safety matters and comply with work health and safety regulation. It also examined how regulators seek to influence compliance. Data were collected in small and medium enterprises in both metropolitan and regional settings in Queensland and South Australia from in the manufacturing, construction and health and community services industries and from work health and safety regulators in these two jurisdictions. A report from Project Two will be published in 2015–16.

Project Three

The third phase in the project will commence in 2015–16 to examine how learning, knowledge and skills are translated into behaviour and used in working life and the influence of workplaces factors on people’s WHS knowledge and behaviour. Interviews will be conducted with teachers and students undertaking nursing degrees and with people now in the workplace who completed their degrees about five years ago.

Project Four

Safe Work Australia will develop a Motivations, Attitudes, Perceptions and Skills (MAPS) survey to re-examine socio-psychological factors that drive behaviour and intentions to behave in response to work health and safety obligations. The survey is expected to be run in 2016-17 with employers and workers.

Workplace health and safety, business productivity and sustainability

Leadership and culture is one of the key action areas of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012—2022. In 2014 Safe Work Australia commissioned the Centre for Workplace Leadership at Melbourne University to provide a summary of the evidence that performance is improved when organisations address work health and safety risks along with other important business risks.

View the Workplace health and safety, business productivity and sustainability report

Safe Work Australia has commissioned a series of research papers that aim to support businesses to measure work health and safety performance and collect information that can be reported in annual reports. The reports in this series found:

  • Issues in the assurance and verification of work health and safety information
  • Issues in the measurement and reporting of work health and safety performance: A review
  • The business case for safe health and productive work

View the reports on the role of accounting in work health and safety governance series.

Work Ability project

The participation of mature age workers in the workforce is recognised as important to both the Australian economy and to those mature age people who wish to engage in work. In 2005, the ASCC highlighted the value of work ability in the context of older workers and recommended that: “individuals need to be assessed for their work ability, allowing mature workers’ strengths to be utilised, while compensating for any age related impairment”. To address this recommendation and consider the implications in terms of work health and safety for older workers, Safe Work Australia undertook the Work Ability project.

Safe Work Australia has published a report by the University of Sydney about the findings of the Work Ability in Australia pilot study. Work ability is the capacity of workers to meet the demands of their jobs.

View the Work Ability in Australia Pilot Study and Research Brief.

Synthesis of Safe Work Australia research findings in priority industries

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012—2022 identifies seven industries as national priorities for prevention activities. Safe Work Australia has begun a series of reports on the priority industries in relation to work health and safety perceptions, hazard exposures and work health and safety activities. To date, reports have been prepared on the following industries:

Other relevant reports

2014: Work health and safety in structural metal product manufacturing: a qualitative research study

2001: OHS implications of stress at work - the New Zealand perspective

2001: Work stress theory and interventions: From evidence to policy

2001: KPMG Consulting (2001) Key management motivators in Occupational Health and Safety: research for the CEO and Supervisor Drivers Project. A report for the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission. (Includes volumes 1. Main report; 2. Case studies; and 3. Telephone survey)

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