How to Get into a WHS Risk Management Career

How to Get into a WHS Risk Management Career

Risk manager assessing factory

Why get into risk management?

Work Health and Safety (WHS) specialists cover various fields, including coordinators, assessors, rehabilitation experts and risk management officers. Risk management requires both formal qualifications and ‘soft skills’ such as diplomacy, tact, good communication and discretion. It is a rewarding field where the focus is on preventing the heartbreak and costs of workplace deaths and injuries.

The unfortunate downside of poor workplace safety

Australia has made substantial headway in terms of workplace safety in recent years. In 2007, a total of 310 Australians lost their lives at work, yet by 2018, that figure was 146. When allowing for an increase in workforce numbers over that period, the death rate was reduced by nearly two thirds, from three per 100,000 workers to just 1.21. It’s clear that the result wasn’t due to luck, nor was it an inherently Australian problem. In 1968, the same amount of Americans died at work (14,000) as soldiers who lost their lives in the Vietnam War that year. Those tragic statistics prompted American authorities to create stringent health and safety laws, a policy decision reflected in Australia and most developed nations.

In 2007, a total of 310 Australians lost their lives at work due to poor workplace safety. By 2018, as a result of WHS improvements, that figure dropped to 146. Click To Tweet

5 Industries that need WHS Risk Management Officers

Today, occupational health and safety measures are effective thanks to strong legislation and the work of those who are responsible for compliance. For this reason, employers place great value upon the people who take up these roles. Below we identify five fields in which risk management will play an increasingly important role in the years ahead.

1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing

Only 2.3% of the workforce is involved in agriculture, forestry and fishing, yet it is an industry that results in more than a fifth (23%) of workplace deaths2. Nearly three quarters are vehicle-related (74%), but other factors also contribute, such as working with animals, extreme weather exposure, use of chemicals and other hazards that are unique to the industry. A qualified risk manager’s job is to provide solutions to prevent, rather than respond to incidents which might cause severe injury or death. In agriculture settings, this might include a regular plan for servicing plant and equipment, remote workplace safety audits, equipment training and fall protection measures.

23% of workplace deaths occur in the agriculture, forestry and mining industry. Click To Tweet

2. Road transport

The increase in online shopping, particularly since the onset of COVID-19, has led to more goods delivery (especially door-to-door). While improvements in driving technology have saved many lives, transport is a complicated, large-scale and dynamic industry which is over-represented in fatality statistics. Approximately 17% of Australia’s workplace deaths are in transport, with 93% occurring in the road freight sector, despite it representing only 2% of the workforce3.

A WHS risk manager has a host of measures at their disposal to consider implementing in such environments. GPS tracking and automatic driver logs are obvious considerations, but other initiatives can have a real impact. For example, long-distance drivers have higher rates of circulatory and cardiac complaints due to the often sedentary nature of their work. A risk management officer might consider ways of combating this, not only in the company’s interests but also for the drivers’ own health and safety.

93% of workplace deaths in the transport industry occur in the road freight sector, despite it representing only 2% of the workforce. Click To Tweet

3. Manufacturing

The fact that no ‘one size fits all’ means that risk management can’t focus on just one area of the business but needs to assess several at once. All risks need to be identified and mitigated in different ways. Manufacturing accounts for about one in ten workplace fatalities; however, the rate of serious workplace injury is also of concern. In particular, muscular stress caused by lifting heavy objects comprises 41% of all compensation claims. Those aged 15-24 are most at risk, with an injury rate 44% higher than the overall average4. This poses multiple challenges for risk management professionals, who might oversee large workplaces and complex supply chains. WHS needs to apply to various kinds of work, from transport/forklift drivers to warehouse and assembly line staff, and many others.

4. Construction

Construction is an environment requiring specialised risk management professionals. Every day, 35 serious injuries occur on construction worksites across Australia. On the upside, that figure reflects a 31% decrease in claims in the decade commencing 2001. A fifth of claims involve back injuries often caused by slips, trips or falls. Falling from a height is another area of concern. A complicating factor is the number of subcontractors who are involved in construction projects. Part of the risk managers’ role is to ensure that every worker is ‘on the same page’ regarding safe practices and risk mitigation.

The Best Pathway to a Career in Work Health and Safety

5. Mining

The mining industry has made many remarkable improvements in workplace safety in recent years. However, the nature of the business means there is more that needs to be done. The challenges for risk management professionals in this field are many and diverse since they’ll often involve large workforces comprising both employees and contractors, remote worksites and the use of heavy plant and equipment. The disruption caused by deaths and injuries in any industry has a significant financial impact, though this magnifies in the mining sector due to its’ sheer size. A risk management professional is an invaluable asset to minimise the workforce’s social and emotional impact and increase the overall quality of working life.

Why get into risk management?

Governments are committed to continuously improving occupational health and safety, given that work-related injury and disease costs the economy $62 billion annually5 or an average cost of $117,000 per claim. Employers must demonstrate a serious and ongoing commitment to the issue of WHS, so they require risk managers who can work both independently and as part of a team. You must be computer literate and have strong analytical and research skills. The job requires good communication and interpersonal skills, as well as someone who can exercise respect for confidentiality and privacy. Integrity and honesty are essential.

Work-related injury and disease costs the economy $62 billion annually. Click To Tweet

What can I earn, and where do I start?

The average Risk Management Manager salary in Australia is $128,000, while salaries above $180,000 are not uncommon based on experience. The College for Adult Learning offers two courses that will kickstart your career in the field:

The WHS Cert IV provides a basic understanding of occupational health and safety law and how to navigate the technical aspects related to WHS processes within any organisation. You’ll learn how to contribute to WHS decisions, and develop skills such as responding to incidents, identifying hazards, and planning a work health and safety management system (WHSMS).

The Diploma of Work Health and Safety (BSB51319) is a nationally recognised formal qualification that develops your existing essential OHS skills and prepares you for leading WHS roles. The diploma course will help you develop and consolidate your skills around risk analysis and incident response, setting you up to lead and manage health and safety procedures within any organisation.
1Safe Work Australia 2Safe Work Australia – Agriculture 3Safe Work Australia – Transport 4Safe Work Australia – Manufacturing 5Safe Work Australia – Cost Statistics

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