Record Keeping for WHS: The what, why and how long explained.
Is your filing cabinet full? When it comes to Work Health and Safety, not sure what you have to keep and why? You’re not the only one.
In this article we will explore each type of record you must keep and for how long.
Let’s face it. Record keeping is usually the least favourite task for a business owner, and agriculture is no different.
You know you need to keep records about your company, keep records for tax and GST as well your day to day operations. Knowing what’s happening with your crop, livestock or production is pretty important, right? You would already be doing this.
Keeping records for workplace health and safety is not only needed, it’s smart. It forms part of a sensible risk management approach.
Knowing you’re compliant with health and safety is different to showing you’re compliant.
Knowing you’ve got health and safety managed is a ‘hand on heart’ thing – you know you’re doing what’s needed. But can you show this to someone if needed?
How do you demonstrate or prove what you’re doing?
Keeping accurate records will help you to check the health and safety performance of your business and allow you to make improvements where necessary. It’s also essential that everyone in your workplace is aware of the records they need to keep, including knowing how to do this.
In workplace health and safety, the old adage is if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen. Records can be on physical paper, or electronic. As long as it’s in place and accessible, how you keep records it up to you.
You need to keep records to show how you’re managing workplace health and safety.
So, what do you need, where do you start and how much is enough?
Start simple – get some policies and procedures in place, induct and train people and make sure you’re managing risks and hazards identified in your business. There’s a bit of paperwork behind all of this, and it’s all just as important as the rest.
It’s a smart investment to spend a day or two working out what you need and getting it all in place. Having nothing, or not enough, could leave you vulnerable legally.
How do you know what types of records to keep?
Get started with these:
Make sure you’ve got at least some basic workplace health and safety policies in place, and they are accessible to everyone.
It’s important your workers and contractors know what’s in your policies too, as they tell others what you expect and should set out who’s responsible for what.
Safe Work Procedures
These are the ‘how to’ for use of different machinery, equipment or tasks.
When someone comes on to your property for the first time, you need to ensure they are given an induction. This includes workers, contractors and visitors.
A good induction will tell them your expectations of safety, make sure they know where any hazards are they need to watch out for, and anything else important in keeping them safe while they are there.
Keep copies of any licences, certificates or tickets your workers have that are needed for the work they do such as operating machinery or equipment, use of chemicals, first aid certificate, etc. Any training a worker does while working for you, keep record of this too.
Incident and hazard reporting
You need to know what incidents, injuries and near misses occur, and what hazards exist. You can then put actions in place to improve safety and prevent reoccurrences. Keep record of what you do as this is particularly useful in showing you are actively keeping your workplace safe by being proactive.
You must keep record of what and how much you have on site, using a Manifest or Register. As you bring more on or use a chemical, keep record of this as well.
Records including Safety Data Sheets must be kept for at least 5 years. Anyone who uses certain hazardous chemicals regularly may need to have health monitoring. This has a different requirement for record retention, in most states you need to keep this for at least 30 years.
You must have an asbestos register if there is any at your workplace. This has to be maintained for the life of the structure containing asbestos. If you have asbestos on site and anyone is working with or exposed to it for an extended period of time, you may need to send them for health monitoring. These health monitoring records must be kept for at least 40 years.
Machinery and equipment records
Records of registration, risk assessments, maintenance and any testing or inspections completed for that piece of plant or equipment. You need to keep these records for the life of the machinery or equipment, and ensure these are provided to someone who buys that item from you.
Each time a risk assessment is completed on a substance, plant and equipment or a process, you have a chance to improve safety. A risk assessment will give you information as to what could go wrong, and you can then put things in place to eliminate or minimise the risk.
This is a list of all identified hazards and risks in your business. It should include your assessment of the level of, and controls designed to eliminate or reduce the risk. This is an ideal tool to help guide what policies, safe work procedures and training is needed in your workplace.
Do I really need to have access to these records?
The above list seems like a lot of work. But the harsh reality is if you don’t keep this kind of information, in the event of a serious incident you may leave yourself in a tricky spot with a regulator.
Work out what records are compulsory for your operation and develop a system or get some software to keep these updated regularly.
How long do you need to keep these records?
Some records have specific timeframes for retention, while there are some grey areas on others.
The rule of thumb for workplace health and safety record retention is 5 years unless there’s a specific requirement.
If there is an incident which results in a serious injury or illness, or a dangerous incident which could expose a worker or any other person to a serious risk to their health and safety on your property, you will need to have really good records as it’s likely an inspector from the regulator will be onsite to investigate.
Regulators generally have 2 years (3 years in WA) from date of the incident to complete an investigation. In this time, they will investigate and decide if they are going to prosecute.
You need to keep records relating to that incident until well after this. If it does go to court, that process can take another 2-5 years on top of the investigation period so you need records until everything is finalised.
In Queensland, the Work Health and Safety Regulations state you must keep records for at least 5 years after an incident.
Health monitoring records for workers have to be kept for at least 30 years, or if it’s to do with asbestos then it’s kept for at least 40 years.
What about general business records?
In addition to work health and safety requirements, company records have to be kept indefinitely, tax records for 5 years, and HR records such as payroll and wages and employee records are kept for 7 years.
There are many resources available to agricultural businesses from the Australian Taxation Office, Fair Work Commission, Safe Work Australia, Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), commodity and industry associations and your relevant office of business and consumer affairs. Make use of these and seek professional help if needed.
To make this easier for you, we've created a Record Keeping Requirements PDF that provides a guide to record retention for your business at a glance.
Originally published 04 June, 2020.