Shockingly, an Australian worker is seriously injured every 2-3 minutes. Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Policies and Procedures are extremely important to implement in your business and should never be overlooked. As a business owner, you do not want to see any of your workers get hurt, nor do you want to be a man (or woman) down. WHS Policies and Procedures help to minimise risk and will also protect you and your company if a worker was ever seriously injured, or worse.
It is in fact a legal requirement that you have such policies in place to minimise the risk of injury in the workplace. WHS Acts have been implemented in most jurisdictions across Australia to create a nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.
The primary duty of care falls on businesses when it comes to WHS. This means that if a worker is injured, responsibility falls on the person in control of the business or undertaking (PCBU). i.e. directors and management. A 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) is a broad term used throughout work health and safety legislation to describe all forms of modern working arrangements, which we commonly refer to as businesses.
Furthermore ‘officers’ of a business (business owners or those who make decisions that affect the business) must exercise due diligence and make sure the PCBU complies with its health and safety obligations. So, if you are an officer (Owner/Director) you are ultimately liable, so as far as is reasonably practicable, for managing the health and safety of all your workers.
The WHS Act provides for three categories of offences for breach of health and safety duties and outlines the maximum penalties that apply to the different people involved.
- Category 1 – a duty holder engages in conduct that recklessly exposes a person to a risk of death or serious injury or illness. This offence is a crime and will be prosecuted in the District Court.
- Category 2 – a duty holder fails to comply with a health and safety duty that exposes a person to risk of death or serious injury or illness.
- Category 3 – a duty holder fails to comply with a health and safety duty. These offences will be taken summarily in the Magistrates Court.
- Industrial manslaughter
The Consequences can be Severe
If you do not comply with WHS regulations, there are very serious consequences that can affect you personally. Last year (2020) saw Queensland’s first ever industrial manslaughter conviction. A Brisbane worker was killed in a tragic workplace accident at a wrecking yard in Brisbane. Another worker was operating a forklift without the appropriate licence and with no safety barriers in place when he struck and killed his colleague.
Investigations found that:
- there were no written safety policies or procedures within the workplace;
- no safety systems were in place;
- the company directors did not check the workers’ licences to operate machinery and simply relied on their verbal assurance;
- there was no sufficient assessment of the workers competency to operate a forklift;
- there was no traffic management plan on the worksite; and
- there was no real attempt to assess and control the risks.
As a result, the directors of the company were convicted (each received a 10-month jail sentence) and the company was fined a whopping $3 million.
Protect Your Workers From Injury (And Protect Yourself From Liability)
No matter the size of your business, you must implement OHS policies within the workplace. Due diligence requirements are set out in the WHS laws. For example, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) requires that there are appropriate practices or systems of work in place as well as actively monitoring and evaluating health and safety at the workplace.
This way, workers are aware of the appropriate safety standards and procedures and there is a process for identifying, assessing and dealing with risk. Risk control measures could prevent workplace accidents and injuries to keep you and your workers safe.
It is time to make WHS a fundamental part of running your business and make it standard practice for all workers. Luckily, we have you covered! Book in a free call with us to assess your legal risk and discuss our great Fixed Fee packages.
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Typical Legal Disclaimer!…
Unfortunately, there is never a ‘one size fits all’ formula to apply. Every situation is unique and it can be tricky to wrap your head around some areas of the law. To ensure you are setting yourself and your business up for success, it is always best to consult a legal professional with expertise in the field.