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Workplace Health & Safety

Under Workplace Health & Safety (“WHS”) business owners, including directors, can be held personally responsible for health and safety in their workplace.

For example, Victoria's anti-bullying legislation, known as Brodie's Law, commenced in June 2011 and made serious bullying a crime punishable by up to 10 years in jail. Brodie's Law was introduced after the tragic suicide of a young woman, Brodie Panlock, who was subjected to relentless bullying in her workplace. Her employer and several of its staff were fined under the existing occupational health and safety laws. Brodie’s employer pleaded guilty and was fined $220,000. The company’s owner and three co-workers also pleaded guilty and were fined between $10,000 and $45,000 each.

Did you know that 'Bullying and Harassment' falls under Workplace Health & Safety legislation?

Bullying and Harassment not only comes under the WHS legislation, but as of 1 January 2014, a worker who reasonably believes that he or she has been bullied at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order to stop the bullying.

WHS in each state has its own authority that polices and enforces the WHS legislation. In principle they are about creating a safe work environments. There are two ways of viewing compliance with these WHS regulations: either as a stick, which results from being prosecuted and fined if you do not comply, or as a carrot, where the employer is proactive and communicates with workers, which in turn supports their success and can be a way of retaining staff and maximise productivity.

As a business owner/manager/director, you have responsibilities in regard to health and safety in the workplace. You need to ensure that the business doesn't create health and safety problems for your employees, customers or the public.

A worker can be a direct employee on full-time, part-time or casual. This can extend to:

  • Apprentices, or anyone with an employer undertaking manual labour, clerical work or otherwise

  • Anyone who is deemed to be working under a contract of service

  • Volunteers

  • A school pupil doing work experience

These policies and procedures should provide for the following objectives:

  • To meet your compliance requirements, the employers should takes all reasonably practicable steps to ensure there are WHS policies and procedures in places and that workers have access and are training on these policies.

  • The provision and maintenance of a safe work environment.

  • The provision and maintenance of safe systems of work including safe plant and structures.

  • The safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances.

  • The provision of appropriate information, training, instruction or supervision of all workers to perform their role safely.

  • The identification of any hazards and associated risks at workplaces.

  • The prompt implementation of risk control strategies to eliminate risks.

  • Active participation in raising and resolving WHS issues.

WHS risks apply to small business with two workers as was well as large organisations with thousands of workers. The risks can pose physical dangers or emotional distress to workers.

The following example outlines the potential risks that may be faced by a small suburban health clinic, and potential mitigating actions:

Potential risks & potential mitigating actions

The above-mentioned risks are not comprehensive and should only be used as an example of potential WHS risks that workers can be exposed to. Each employer will have different circumstances and the risks will vary. This highlights the importance of the employer consulting with the workers in matters relating to WHS and also consults with appropriate advisors to ensure risk minimisation.

Like all other WHS risks employers need to ensure that they have adequate policies and procedures in place and all staff have been trained and understand the consequences of noncompliance.

Don’t wait for an issue to escalate, we encourage employers to participate in open and honest consultations with staff the work place. As the person/s responsible, be prepared to not only share, but to listen.

For more information and professional support, please contact us today.


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