Workplace safety

How is the health and safety of my business?

 Does my business have an operating safety plan or system?

  • Am I confident that my plan/system is fully compliant with current legislation under the WHS Act 2011?
  • Am I fully aware of my roles, responsibilities and liabilities under this legislation?
  • Can my business afford fines of up to $3 million?
  • Can I afford fines of up to $600,000 or time in gaol?

If you answered no or unsure to any of these questions then your business may be at risk!

Most workers in Australia are protected by nationally uniform work health & safety laws. This includes employees, contractors, subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices, trainees, work experience students, volunteers, employers who perform work and the general public so that their health and safety is not placed at risk by work activities.

If only I had a dollar for every time someone has commented to me that ‘safety is only common sense’ I would be lying on a beach in the Bahamas sipping cocktails.

The definition of common sense according to the World English Dictionary, is plain ordinary good judgement, sound practical sense and the problem of applying it to safety is that all people do not think the same and their ideas of what is good judgement and practical sense differ.

Safety needs also to be documented so that in the event of an incident, businesses have supportive evidence. Under the harmonised laws for Queensland, WHS Act 2011, all businesses, including accommodation owners, managers and event coordinators, now have three new responsibilities as defined below.

Responsibility as a person conducting a business or undertaking or PCBU:

  • A person conducting a business or undertaking alone or with others whether or not for profit or gain.
  • A PCBU can be a sole trader, a partnership, company, unincorporated association, or government department of public authority (including municipal councils).
  • A PCBU can be a person with management or control over the workplace such as a caretaker or body corporate.

Responsibility as an officer:

  • A person who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the organisations activities.

Worker responsibility:

  • A person who is an employee, contractor, subcontractor, outworker, apprentice and trainees, work experience students, volunteers and PCBUs that are individuals if they perform work for the business.

What does this mean for my business?

As an officer of a PCBU you must meet the requirements of ‘due diligence’. Due diligence in relation to ensuring health and safety is defined for the first time in the WHS Act 2011. In order to be able to demonstrate due diligence, officers will need to be able to show that they have taken reasonable steps to:

  • Acquire and update their knowledge of health and safety matters.
  • Understand the operations being carried out by the PCBU in which they are employed, plus the hazards and risks associated with those operations.
  • Ensure that the PCBU has, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise health and safety risks form work being done.
  • Ensure that the PCBU has appropriate processes in place to receive and respond promptly to information regarding incident hazards and risks.
  • Ensure that the PCBU has, and uses, processes for complying with their duties or obligations under the WHS Act 2011.

Can I afford fines of up to $600,000 or time in gaol?

How do you demonstrate due diligence?

Officers can demonstrate due diligence by ensuring that they have a safety plan/system in place and that it is implemented and maintained.

Within that plan/system should be the tools required for documentation, processes and procedures as required under legislation, by Work Health & Safety Queensland.

As a PCBU it is important to ensure that the following issues are addressed under your safety plan/system:

  • Policy & commitment
  • Planning
  • Structure & responsibility
  • Communication & consultation
  • Site specific issues
  • Plant & equipment
  • Smoking policy
  • Training & consultation
  • High risk work activities
  • Risk management
  • Contractor management
  • Checklists
  • Flow charts
  • Forms
  • Registers
  • Chemicals
  • Signage
  • Emergency evacuation

As a PCBU it is legislated that you must have documented evidence of Safe Work Method Statements and that those SWMS are compliant with current legislation – this is covered under contractor management. It is also legislated that as a PCBU, you must provide an employer with a compliant SWMS before work can commence if you are a contractor, regardless of whether the employer specifically requests this information or not.

What are the penalties if I do not meet my due diligence requirements?

There are three categories of penalties under the act and they include large fines and imprisonment:

  • As a PCBU – up to $3 million in fines.
  • As an officer – up to $600,000 in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment.
  • As a worker – up to $300,000 in fines and/or up to five years imprisonment.

How do I ensure that I am meeting my due diligence requirements and protecting myself and my business?

PCBUs can manage these issues themselves but the most cost effective and reliable method is to engage the services of a trained safety consultant. By engaging a trained safety consultant, businesses are promoting a positive work health and safety culture by:

  • Sending a clear message that health and safety are valued by their business
  • They will have trained support in meeting their due diligence requirements under legislation
  • They will ensure that their safety information is updated and meets compliance.

It is important to note that the duty to exercise due diligence will always remain with the officer and cannot be outsourced to another person.

Kerry ProctorKerry Proctor is from A1 Safety Matters is a company committed to workplace health & safety. A1 Safety Matters conducts free information seminars relating to WHS Act 2011 and how they may affect you and your business. It specialises in tailored plans and systems that are site and industry specific.

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