Work Health & Safety

Resource: Work Health and Safety Act 2011 No 10 http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2011A00137/Html/Text

Safe Work Australia statistics tell us that:

  • In 2010–11, there were 132 570 workers’ compensation claims for serious  work-related injuries or illnesses. This equates to an incidence rate of 13.1 serious claims per 1000 employees.
  • Preliminary data for 2011–12 show there were 128 050 serious workers’ compensation claims, which equates to 12.2 serious claims per 1000 employees. While the final number of accepted claims for the 2011–12 year is likely to be around 2% higher, an improvement from 2010–11 is still expected.
  • Per hour worked, male employees had a 25% higher rate of claims for serious injury or disease than female employees.
  • Incidence rates of serious workers’ compensation claims increase with employee age.
  • The highest occupation incidence rates were recorded by labourers and related workers, over double the rate for all occupations.
  • The highest industry incidence rates were recorded by the transport and storage, agriculture, forestry and fishing and manufacturing industries.
  • A typical serious workers’ compensation claim involves four weeks absence from work.
  • One-quarter of serious claims required 12 or more weeks off work.
  • One in five serious claims involved an injury to the back.
  • The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Work Related Injury Survey showed 58 out of every 1000 workers experienced an injury or illness in the workplace in 2009–10. However, half of these incidents involved less than one day or shift absent from work.
  • In 2011–12, 228 workers died due to an injury incurred at work. This equates to 1.99 deaths per 100 000 workers.
  • Work related injury and illness were estimated to cost $60.6 billion in the 2008–09 financial year. This represented 4.8% of GDP.

Economic losses which flow from work-related deaths, injuries and disease may mean high worker’s compensation premiums and ongoing medical costs for your business. Obviously this has an impact on your company’s efficiency and competitiveness in the marketplace.

So, as an employer, are you aware of your obligations and responsibilities in relation to the health, safety and welfare of your employees?

Under the law, an employer bears the main responsibility for ensuring the workplace is safe and healthy. It is important to note that managers and supervisors are required to help an employer meet these responsibilities. In most jurisdictions in Australia, a senior manager can be held responsible if work health and safety laws are not complied with. This is an important factor to consider when choosing and training your managers and supervisors.

Although the laws differ from state to state, generally work health and safety laws in Australia impose a duty on employers to ensure that, as far as is possible, the workplace is safe and the health of employees is not damaged.

As an employer, you should familiarise yourself with the terms of the employer’s duty of care which is found in Part 2, Division 2, Section 19 – Primary Duty of Care of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the “Act”). Failure to comply with the duties under the Act may result in the following penalties:

Category 1 – Reckless conduct
(1) A person commits a Category 1 offence if:
(a) The person has a health and safety duty; and
(b) The person, without reasonable excuse, engages in conduct that exposes an individual to whom that duty is owed to a risk of death or serious injury or illness; and
(c) The person is reckless as to the risk to an individual of death or serious injury or illness.

Penalty – In the case of:

  • An individual (other than as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking)—$300 000 or 5 years imprisonment or both.
  • An individual as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking—$600 000 or 5 years imprisonment or both.
  • A body corporate—$3 000 000.

Category 2 – Failure to comply with health and safety duty
A person commits a Category 2 offence if:
(a) The person has a health and safety duty; and
(b) The person fails to comply with that duty; and
(c) The failure exposes an individual to a risk of death or serious injury or illness.

Penalty – In the case of:

  • An individual (other than as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking)—$150 000.
  • An individual as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking—$300 000.
  • A body corporate—$1 500 000.

Category 3 – Failure to comply with health and safety duty
A person commits a Category 3 offence if:
(a) The person has a health and safety duty; and
(b) The person fails to comply with that duty.

Penalty – In the case of:

  • An individual (other than as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking)—$50 000.
  • An individual as a person conducting a business or undertaking or as an officer of a person conducting a business or undertaking—$100 000.
  • A body corporate—$500 000.

WorkCover recommends a six-step approach which will assist you as an employer to meet your duty of care:

  1. Develop appropriate OHS policies and programs;
  2. Set up a mechanism to consult about OHS matters with employees;
  3. Establish a training strategy;
  4. Establish a hazard identification and workplace assessment process;
  5. Develop and implement risk control strategies, and
  6. Promote, maintain and improve these strategies.

Just as you have responsibilities to your workers, your employees also have responsibilities to you under work health and safety laws. Generally, employees are required to:

  • Follow instructions and rules in the workplace -that is, to comply with instructions designed to ensure that work is carried out safely;
  • Work and behave in ways which are safe and do not endanger the health and safety of anyone in the workplace.

If an employee does not do these things, you as the employer can discipline the employee under the relevant industrial award or an enterprise agreement which is in place, or if the matter is serious, the person could be prosecuted under the health and safety laws.

It is therefore important not to underestimate the value of training. Everyone in your workplace should receive training so that you are confident they understand their responsibilities and are competent to meet those responsibilities. WorkCover recommends that as a minimum, induction training should outline your workplace work health and safety policy and procedures.

Work Health & Safety — Our Team

Director - Specialist Accredited in Business Law
Senior Associate - Specialist Accredited in Commercial Litigation
Solicitor - Commercial Litigation team