Australian WHS Laws and Penalties
Even with the introduction of harmonised Work Health and Safety laws, the specific requirements within the WHS Act and Regulations still differ slightly from state to state. Regardless of which state, territory or jurisdiction you and your business fit into, the following basic requirements apply:
Employer's or PCBU’s (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) responsibilities include:
Ensure the health and safety of:
(a) workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the person; and
(b) workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person, while the workers are at work.
This includes the following activities/requirements (where applicable)
(a) Provide and Maintain a work environment without risks to health and safety; and
(b) Provide and Maintain safe plant and structures; and
(c) Provide and Maintain safe systems of work; and
(d) Ensure the safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances; and
(e) Provide and ensure access to adequate facilities for the welfare of workers in carrying out their work activities; and
(f) Provide information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from their work activities; and
(g) Ensure that the health of workers and the conditions at the workplace are monitored for the purpose of preventing illness or injury to workers relating to their work activities.
A senior person (eg: manager, board member) in a business may also be deemed an “Officer” of the company. If so, an Officer has a duty of care to exercise “Due Diligence” to ensure that the PCBU is able to fulfil their responsibilities. In fulfilling this obligation, an Officer’s responsibilities include:
(a) Acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety matters; and
(b) Understand of the nature of the operations of the business or undertaking and the hazards and risks associated with those operations; and
(c) Ensure that the PCBU has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety relating to work activities; and
(d) Ensure that the PCBU has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information; and
(e) to ensure that the PCBU implements processes for complying with any duty or obligation under the Act; and
(f) Verify the provision and use of the resources and processes referred to in paragraphs (c) to (e).
Worker's responsibilities include:
(a) take reasonable care for your own health and safety; and
(b) take reasonable care that your acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons; and
(c) comply with any reasonable instruction that is given by the PCBU to allow the person to comply with this Act; and
(d) co-operate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the PCBU relating to health or safety at the workplace that has been notified to workers.
With the establishment of the new “Harmonised” Work Health and Safety legislation, fines have increased, potentially up to $3million for an organisation and $600,000&/or imprisonment for a senior manager within an organisation. In addition to fines and prosecutions, there may also be requirements for enforceable undertakings – where the business or individual may be required to perform some level of activity or service in lieu of prosecution, with the ultimate intention of providing improvement in health & safety across your industry sector.
The only constant across the country is that the value of these fines is increasing, and they will continue to increase as long as workplace injuries and fatalities continue.