Churches are places where work happens by pastors, employees, volunteers and congregational members. Workplace health and safety legislation considers the governing body of the congregation as a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) and therefore the governing body has an obligation to ensure compliance with work, health and safety laws. Churches are not exempt from accidents or injuries and penalties for workplace health and safety contraventions may incur fines.
This article discusses some of the important work, health and safety considerations for church leaders.
Definition of workplace health and safety
Workplace health and safety is about eliminating and minimising the risk of work-related injuries and everyone has a responsibility to work towards a church environment that is without risk to the health or safety of others. Workplace health and safety laws are supported by a range of federal, state and territory authorities.
The impacts of workplace health and safety
Workplace health and safety breaches are serious. Your church can be impacted by a workplace injury with lost productivity, lower engagement and trust levels among the congregational members and volunteers, loss of skills, experience and knowledge, reputational damage and possible fines.
The church’s obligations
You need to ensure the church environment is safe as much as it is reasonable to do so. Things to look out for are:
- a safe physical environment including structures, furniture and fittings, equipment
- an environment free from abuse and harassment
- safe use and handling of all equipment, material and structures.
You can achieve this by offering training, information and instruction to all employees, volunteers, congregational members. You should also maintain adequate facilities like kitchens, toilets, halls or communal areas. Ideally, you should have workplace health and safety policies and procedures and incorporate risk management processes into your work schedule.
It is important to consult with all members of your congregation. Consultation allows everyone to understand the risks, effects and how they can be controlled.
Identify common hazards and risks
You should be able to clearly identify common hazards and risks so as to eliminate them. Some common hazards and risks are:
- manual handling (repetitive lifting of items)
- plant and equipment
- working at heights
- physical and environmental hazards (ie: poor lighting, trip hazards etc)
- chemical hazards
- electrical hazards
- psychological hazards.
Promoting a health and safe environment and complying with workplace health and safety laws will provide benefits to you and your whole congregation. Some of the benefits may include a reduction in physical and mental health problems, accidents and injuries in the church environment. Feelings of being safe may increase the willingness to volunteer and take part in church activities.