Health and safety in the workplace

When you enter a new workplace, whether for a short workplace experience or a longer internship, safety is paramount.

It’s important to begin with a good understanding of both your responsibilities and your rights so that you know what to do if you do encounter an unsafe situation. The onus isn’t all on you: your employer has a responsibility to care for you as well. After all, even if your internship or experience is short-term, you are still part of the organisation!

Your employer is expected to do their best to provide a safe work environment where you can thrive in your role, but it’s important for you to be informed. Familiarise yourself with these definitions so you can recognise behaviour that could be harmful to you or someone you work with and know how to act.

CDES will work with you to prepare for the workplace environment.

Physical safety

Every workplace presents physical risks. During your internship or workplace experience, you will fall under the health and safety guidelines of the company that employs you, but it is important to use common sense as well.

At the start of your experience, your employer will give you a general health and safety induction, explaining basic procedures such as what to do in the case of an emergency. Later, the organisation should provide more in-depth information about the health and safety processes of your organisation. If this doesn’t happen, ask your manager to take you through their policy and processes. ACC covers accidents that occur while you’re in the workplace, even if you are there as an intern.

The Health and Safety and Work Act 2015 states that health and safety at work is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation. This includes you! Follow these processes and encourage others to do the same. We will be here for you if you are injured during the course of your internship or workplace experience, but it’s important to know what your responsibilities are before you start.

Your responsibilities:

  • Use common sense: behave in an effective, safe and reliable way.
  • If you have health or personal issues that might affect your work, be upfront and inform your manager and CDES before you begin your internship.
  • Know before you go: ask questions and attend any briefings or training your employer offers before your internship starts.
  • Make sure CDES has your correct contact details and knows all the details of your internship.
  • Follow your employer’s health and safety rules, practices and processes.
  • Make sure you’re clear on the work you are required to do as part of your internship, and don’t go beyond it.
  • Let your internship supervisor know if you have any concerns about health and safety.
  • Let the University know if any details of your internship change.
  • If you have an accident (or a near miss) let your internship manager and the University know right away.
  • If you raise a concern with your internship supervisor and they don’t address it, let CDES know right away.

Workplace behaviours

Identifying normal vs. inappropriate behaviour 

When you enter the workplace, you will interact with many different types of people and be exposed to new situations. Knowing the difference between normal workplace interactions and harassment or bullying will help you navigate these encounters. For example, these experiences might be new to you, but wouldn’t be classified as harmful:

  • Friendly banter, light-hearted conversation, jokes that feel funny to everyone involved, and compliments.
  • Being given reasonable instructions with the expectation that they will be carried out.
  • Being issued a warning or discipline for behaviour that falls outside of the organisation’s policies, e.g. smoking indoors.
  • Being expected to follow high standards of performance in your work quality, safety and team cooperation.
  • Receiving negative feedback or critique of your work performance that requires you to improve.
  • Colleagues who express opinions that are different from others.
  • Free and frank discussion about organisational issues that don’t target or insult individuals.
  • Targeted affirmative action policies, parental leave provisions, or reasonable accommodation and provision of work aids for staff with disabilities, etc.

Types of inappropriate workplace behaviour

Intimidation can have many faces, including bullying, harassment and discrimination. If you experience any of these as defined below, you will be covered by the law.

Workplace bullying is targeted, unreasonable behaviour repeatedly directed by one person or a group towards an employee or a group of employees that can lead to physical or psychological harm.

Harassment can take many forms. The Employment Relations Act 2000 and the Human Rights Act 1993 cover sexual and racial harassment. If your harassment is more general, you may still be able to take legal action through a personal grievance.

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated unfairly compared to others in similar circumstances, usually due to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, appearance, age, or a disability. Discrimination is covered in the Human Rights Act 1993.

Sexual harassment is unwelcome or offensive sexual behaviour that is uncomfortable, inappropriate, repeated or significant enough to have a harmful effect on you.

Racial harassment is uninvited behaviour that humiliates, offends or intimidates someone because of their race, colour, ethnic or national origin. It can involve spoken, written or visual material or a physical act.

General harassment could include any unwanted and unjustified behaviour which another person finds offensive or humiliating and because it is serious or repeated it has a negative effect on the person’s employment, job performance or job satisfaction. This is not covered under the Employment Relations Act 2000 or the Human Rights Act 1993, but may be cause for personal grievance.

What can I do?

If you experience behaviour that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you don’t have to put up with it, but it's up to you to speak up so the situation doesn’t continue.

  • Keep track of incidents you found offensive, demeaning or uncalled for: make a note of the date/time, what happened, who said what and whether anyone else was present.
  • Talk through what happened with someone you trust and who will keep the information confidential. Getting a second opinion may bring clarity about whether you should take action.
  • If you feel comfortable to confront the person, it’s a good idea to be considered, but direct. Feel free to take a support person, and be clear that you want the behaviour to stop. Go with an open mind.
  • If you don’t feel comfortable confronting the person yourself, or if you do, but the behaviour continues, seek advice and counsel from the following sources:

Speak up for others

If you encounter someone in your workplace treating someone else in a way that doesn’t feel right to you, then consider taking the following steps:

  • Check with the person to see whether they are okay. Offer to support them should they wish to do something about the incident. 
  • If you feel comfortable and safe, stand up to the bully, telling them that you don’t think their comments or actions are okay.

Be kind

Always consider how your actions and words affect others, and certainly do not join in if a group starts to make targeted attacks toward someone.