How To Get Into a WHS Risk Management Career

Risk manager assessing factory

What is WHS risk management?

Work health and safety (WHS) specialists cover various roles, including coordinators, assessors, rehabilitation experts and risk management officers. Risk management requires 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 costs and tragedy of workplace deaths and injuries.

The consequences 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. Even 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 1.2.

This 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.

The Best Pathway to a Career in Work Health and Safety

Industries that hire WHS jobs

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 deaths. Nearly three-quarters are vehicle-related (74%), but other factors also contribute. These include working with animals, extreme weather exposure, use of chemicals and other hazards unique to the industry.

A qualified risk manager’s job is to provide solutions to prevent, rather than respond to incidents that 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.

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 that 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 workforce.

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’ health and safety.

3. Manufacturing

The fact that no ‘one size fits all’ means that risk management can’t focus on just one area of the business – it needs to assess several at once. All risks need to be identified and mitigated in different ways.

Manufacturing accounts for about one in 10 workplace fatalities. However, the rate of serious workplace injury is concerning. 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 average. This poses multiple challenges for risk management professionals who might oversee large workplaces and complex supply chains. WHS applies to various kinds of work, from transport or forklift drivers to warehouse and assembly line staff.

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 manager’s role is to ensure that every worker is ‘on the same page’ regarding safe practices and risk mitigation.

5. Mining

The mining industry has made many remarkable improvements in workplace safety in recent years. However, the nature of the business means more needs to be done.

The challenges for risk management professionals in this field are many and diverse. 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.


What skills do I need in risk management?

Governments are committed to continuously improving occupational health and safety, given that work-related injury and disease cost the economy $62 billion annually 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 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 and someone who can exercise respect for confidentiality and privacy. Integrity and honesty are essential.

What can I earn in WHS risk management?

The average risk management manager salary in Australia is $115,000–$150,000.However, salaries above $180,000 are not uncommon for those with the right experience.

How do I become a WHS risk manager?

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. It will also help you 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
  • 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 WHS skills and prepares you for leading WHS roles. The diploma will help you develop and consolidate your skills around:

  • Risk analysis
  • Incident response
  • Setting you up to lead and manage health and safety procedures within any organisation

Your Career in Work Health and Safety

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