Wednesday, 09 November 2016

Benjamin Urry, Associate Director

Christmas – the season for warmer weather, social catch-ups and end of year work functions.

Christmas – also the season of urgent deadlines, completing tasks to go on leave that little bit earlier, and perhaps not surprisingly the season of increased work health and safety incidents.

Work health and safety (WHS) – what’s not on Santa’s list

With the festive season upon us, businesses sensibly remind workers about the need to drink responsibly and treat other workers with respect to avoid bullying, discrimination and harassment issues. However, what is all too commonly left off Santa’s “workplace checklist” is the management of work health and safety risks.

Statistically speaking (click here for information provided by the Victorian Government) the last two months of the calendar year result in the most work health and safety incidents. By way of example, just under half of all workplace fatalities in Victoria in 2015 occurred in that brief lead up to the end of year holidays.

Despite these statistics, many businesses either don’t have sufficient practical and legal measures in place to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of its workers. This may include continuing to use outdated policies and procedures applying old laws (“old” being pre-2011) which may result in a higher contractual liability. Alternatively, businesses may solely rely on “paper only” systems as opposed to systems which are flexibly designed to accommodate changing WHS risk profiles in the business.

Changes in 2011-2012 to WHS – the item left in the bottom of the stocking

In all States and Territories except Victoria and Western Australia, work/occupational health and safety laws were overhauled in 2011-2012 to provide for a more uniform national system. As a result of these changes, businesses needed to ensure that they were across the changes, including policy updates and better training for a broader range of workers beyond just employees (such as contractors who under WHS laws are considered workers).

However, in our experience many businesses are either not across these changes and rely on outdated policies and procedures or made some progress with implementing the required changes but have put them into the “I’ll get back to it later” basket.

Putting WHS on Santa’s list

With penalties at the levels set out in below table, increased safety risks associated with end of year functions or workers taking short cuts in the end of year rush, now is the time to initiate or finish those updates to your WHS policies, procedures and training.

A checklist of some of the items we would recommend as a minimum requiring attention is set out below:

  1. Update/prepare WHS policies and procedures, including the mandatory issues resolution policy (failure of which is a breach of WHS laws).
  2. Think about arrangements with contractors and other third parties and ensure they are required to comply with WHS obligations, including consulting with your business about WHS. This may necessitate an update to contractual terms.
  3. Train workers, managers and officers on their WHS obligations. This can be done separately or in conjunction with any end of year bullying, harassment and discrimination training. However, if this is the first time these persons are being trained on current WHS laws, separate training is recommended.
  4. Have appropriate systems in place to deal with incidents should they arise, including reporting chains and how to respond to investigations by safety regulators.

If you would like further information on the above or assistance reviewing or preparing WHS policies, procedures or training please contact a member of the PCS Legal Team.