The way our work is designed can have a big impact. It can make us feel motivated, engaged, bored, or stressed — and affect our overall health, safety and wellbeing.
Well-designed work contributes to lower rates of accidents and incidents as well as increased productivity and better business outcomes.
What is good work design?
Often, the way work is designed just happens or has evolved over time. It's sometimes only when symptoms of poor work design emerge, such as incidents and injuries, increased errors and complaints, or lots of people leaving, that we begin to ask why.
‘Good work’ is healthy and safe work where hazards and risks are removed or minimised and the wellbeing and job satisfaction of workers is prioritised.
Good work design is most effective when you consider good work design principles as early as possible in the planning and design process.
Safe Work Australia explains what you need to consider when designing good work:
- How work is performed, including the physical, mental and emotional demands of the tasks and activities.
- The task duration, frequency, and complexity.
- The context and systems of work.
The physical working environment
- The plant, equipment, materials and substances used.
- The vehicles, buildings, structures that are workplaces.
- Physical, emotional, and psychological capacities as well as needs and experience.
Examples of good work design
- The workflow is smooth and the right equipment is available for all workers.
- Work stations are adjustable.
- Work demands are manageable and communication from management and co-workers is clear.
- There are clear expectations about work duties and processes are applied consistently across workgroups.
Examples of unsafe work design
- A professional with a high workload, low job autonomy, conflicting demands from different supervisors and high levels of job strain.
- A process worker working long shifts with the wrong bench height.
- A cleaner's work is so tightly timed that, to meet targets, they run between rooms.
- A lab technician’s equipment is not available or incorrectly labelled causing stress and safety risks.
Professor Sharon Parker and the Centre for Transformative Work Design provides an interpretation of the principles of designing good work and why it matters.
International research shows that good work design can:
- protect workers from harm to their health, safety and wellbeing
- improve workers health and wellbeing as well as impact job satisfaction and staff retention
- improve business success and productivity
- better support workers throughout their entire working life (see Supporting an ageing workforce).
Addressing safe and healthy work through design is also a national priority in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22.
Many people can be designers of work. Below are just a few examples.
- Business owners making decisions about the tasks to be performed at work, the equipment purchased and the environment where the work is done.
- Engineers, architects and designers of plant, substances and structures whose designs are influencing the way workers interact with their workspaces, plant, tools and equipment.
- Anyone who has responsibility for designing work processes and systems including ergonomists, hygienists, psychologists, managers, human resources personnel, and information technology and systems engineers.
- Occupational health providers who help to 'redesign' work when reasonable adjustments are required to accommodate individual health conditions.
If you're an employer or business owner, you're legally required to design and manage work to protect your workers from harm.
Learn more about Queensland's work health and safety laws.
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 describes the specific legal requirements for designers.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 describes the responsibilities of designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant or structures. Design, however, is also a requirement in many hazardous areas including noise, lighting, and hazardous manual tasks.
Learn more about construction work and designers of structures.
Examples where design was a factor in prosecution:
- An engineering company was convicted and fined $100,000 for failing to comply with its duty under section 22(2) of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (‘WHS Act’) for a faulty design of a shopping centre travelator support. Find out more about the incident.
To view all court reports visit Office of the Work Health and Safety Prosecutor.
Codes of practice
Here are the codes of practice that relate specifically to design:
- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Safe design of structures code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.51 MB)
- Safe design and operation of tractors code of practice 2005(PDF, 0.5 MB)
- Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.7 MB)
- Work health and safety consultation, cooperation and coordination code of practice 2021(PDF, 0.47 MB)
- Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 2.23 MB)
- Construction and operation of solar farms code of practice 2019 (PDF, 0.92 MB)
Good work design considers the physical work environment, work roles and tasks, and the physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing of workers.
The most effective design process begins during the planning of a new task or process. This early stage presents the greatest opportunity to design-out hazards, incorporate effective risk control measures and design-in efficiencies.
Consider how the work is performed, in the physical working environment, including the plant, equipment, materials and substances used, and the vehicles, buildings and structures.
Planning for relocations, refurbishments or when introducing new engineering systems are also ideal opportunities for businesses to improve their work designs and avoid foreseeable risks.
- Identify the context of the work
Think about the location, physical environment limitations and constraints, workforce composition, and background.
- Consider the entire operation by studying the tasks performed by workers and the variety of work undertaken
Identify possible gaps between the work as imagined (i.e. work described/prescribed in documentation or communicated verbally) and the work as it is actually being done.
- Analyse the resource requirements (task components) of work
Think about the physical, mental and emotional capabilities of your workers and address the work's:
- physical characteristics (e.g. chemical hazards)
- biomechanical characteristics (e.g. manual task demands)
- cognitive characteristics (e.g. mental complexity)
- psychosocial characteristics (e.g. feedback, autonomy).
- Develop and implement solutions
It is critical that a representative mix of people across your business and supply chain are bought together to, not only identify all of the issues but also, consider new and improved designs and solutions to address the issues/gaps/risks that have been identified. Look at each situation with fresh eyes.
- Designing good work is a continuous journey
This requires astute leadership of organisations prepared to continually monitor, review and innovate.
Every place of work is different, so there's not a one size fits all approach to designing good work. Safe Work Australia explains the ten principles of good work design and how to apply them to any workplace, business or industry.
Some things to consider are:
- Consulting with workers
- Managing risks
- Safety leadership and culture
- Work health and wellbeing
- Managing hazards
Our Good work through effective design video explains the ten principles of good work design.
- Applying the principles of good work design (Holy Cross Laundry and Burstows Funeral Homes)
- Redesigning the work schedule for health and wellbeing (Laser Electrical Edmonton)
- Influencing the supply chain through partnerships (Regson Fabrication)
- Good work design for the healthcare and social assistance industry (Suzanne Johnson, Dr Keith Adam and Brooke Dench)
Musculoskeletal Disorders Symposium (MSD) podcasts
- Preventing MSDs during the design stage (Professor David Caple, La Trobe University)
- Living like the world’s longest-lived people (Nick Buettner, The Bluezones™)
- Work health and safety data: business intelligence, distraction or fake news (Associate Professor Sharron O’Neill, University of New South Wales)
- Industrial Exoskeletons 101: considerations for application, integration and sustainment (Dr Christopher Reid, Boeing)
- Addressing sedentary behaviour: occupational sitting - an emerging workplace health and safety issue (Associate Professor Genevieve Healy, University of Queensland)
- Smart work design: now and into the future (Professor Sharon K Parker, Centre for Transformative Design)
- Australian Institute Of Architects
- Australian Institute of Health & Safety
- Centre for disease control and prevention
- Department of Health - Health effects of environmental noise
- Design Council - Redesigning emergency health care
- Engineers Australia
- Evaluation For Leaders - Systems thinking
- Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia - Position statements
- Housing Industry Association
- International Organization for Standardization - Ergonomics of human-system interaction — Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems
- Master Builders Queensland
- Monash University - Good design in road transport
- Musculoskeletal Disorders Symposium podcasts
- Preventing MSDs during the design stage
- Living like the world’s longest-lived people
- Work health and safety data: business intelligence, distraction or fake news
- Industrial Exoskeletons 101: considerations for application, integration and sustainment
- Addressing sedentary behaviour: occupational sitting—an emerging workplace health and safety issue
- Smart work design: now and into the future
- OHS Body of Knowledge - Health and safety in design
- Safe Work Australia
- Systems Thinking Lab videos (best played in Chrome browser)
- Systems Thinking - A New Direction in Healthcare Incident Investigation (best played in Chrome browser)
- Thrive at work - Work design makes life better
- Transform Ageing
- University of the Sunshine Coast, Centre for Human Factors and Sociotechnical Systems
- WorkSafe Queensland
- WorkSafe Victoria