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Systems thinking for health, safety and wellbeing

Incidents, injury and illness rarely have a single cause - many factors, within the workplace and outside it, often contribute to the cause. You need a range of controls and strategies to keep workers safe.

Systems thinking recognises the complex interrelationship of the many factors that can contribute to an injury or illness. Systems thinking helps find the real risks so you can prevent harm or illness, create sustainable change and, ultimately, benefit business.

Think about the big picture

Systems thinking – manual tasks

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Systems Thinking - manual tasks

To prevent injuries at work, we need to do more than tell workers how to be safe. We need to think about the big picture, and all the factors that impact healthy and safe work. Telling workers how to lift doesn’t work.

If the layout is poor and workers don’t have the equipment, time or support to do their job safely, they might be injured. Make sure workers have the right equipment. Talk to your workers and supply chain to design better ways of working. Support safety. Provide resources and enough workers to do the work.

Think about the big picture. Systems thinking – for a healthy and safe workplace.

Systems thinking – health and wellbeing

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP4, 8MB)

Systems Thinking - health and wellbeing

To create a healthy workplace, we need to do more than tell our workers how to be healthy. How work is designed can make being healthy hard. For example, access to healthy food, high workloads and sedentary work.

Think about the big picture and all the factors that impact healthy and safe work. Ensure leaders and policies support workers health. Talk to your workers about their ideas and design your work and work environment with health in mind.

Think about the big picture. Systems thinking - for a healthy and safe workplace.

Workplace risk factors can include:

  • organisational culture (For example, risk perception, values and beliefs)
  • performance measures, incentives and leadership priorities
  • resources, budgets and financial and procurement processes
  • organisational and safety management systems (For example, policies and procedures, risk management, consultation processes, training and supervision, auditing, reporting and maintenance)
  • work area design and layout
  • work organisation (For example, schedules and rosters, staff levels, time pressures, breaks, workload, job demands, pace and flow of work)
  • knowledge and capability of workers.

Risk factors out of the workplace’s control can include:

  • legislation and government policies
  • accreditation requirements
  • external funding and priorities
  • suppliers' processes
  • supply chain impacts (For example, customer or consumer expectations)
  • built environment or transport availability
  • socioeconomic and geographical location of the workplace.

Actions and controls to manage risks work better when they deal with a range of relevant factors rather than having a single focus. For example it is not effective to review how you train staff about hazardous manual tasks without considering other relevant factors such as; workplace and task design, work-related psychological health risks (PDF, 0.49 MB), stressful working conditions, work schedules and the health and wellbeing of workers. A key finding of a research report on musculoskeletal disorders was that workplaces needed to adopt a systems approach to risk management.

More information

Check out other examples of systems thinking: