Reduce your liability through smarter OH&S

Occupational health and safety management for employees, customers, and visitors is covered by a myriad of laws and regulations.

The development and implementation of an appropriate occupational health and safety management framework includes effective reporting of concerns to the management along with an external facility to report concerns anonymously.

An unsafe workplace is one of the nine reportable conduct types included in the Australian Standard AS8004-2003 Whistleblowing Protection Programs for entities.
Despite the ability to construct stringent security and develop occupational health and safety management systems, the ability to control workplace safety is often limited. Control is often intertwined with an over emphasis on, or replaced with trust.

The law imposes a duty on employers to be proactive in reducing risk to health and safety. Directors and Officers have the ultimate duty of care, and they, together with persons concerned in the management of the company, are required to use due diligence to prevent a breach of the law.

Early reporting and early identification of serious OHS risks are essential to being proactive. Workers who fear reprisals for reporting dangerous misconduct at work are far more likely to make a report with the protection of a whistleblower program.

Liability for occupational health and safety management lapses now extends beyond damages, penalties and fines to the company, to imprisonment and hefty fines for Directors, Officers and Managers.

The WHS Act (which came into effect on 1 January 2012 and adopted by all States and Territories except for Victoria), imposes three levels of obligations and therefore three levels of penalties on the following people within your company:

  • PCBU’s (person conducting business undertaking)
  • Officers
  • Workers

Hefty penalties can be imposed for breaching occupational health and safety obligations with a maximum penalty of $3.0 million for a corporation, $600,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment for officers and $300,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment for workers.

The definition of injuries at work includes physical and mental injuries with work related stress significantly on the increase. A major contributor to workplace stress is inappropriate workplace behaviour. Workplace bullying can have an adverse impact on the psychological wellbeing of an employee and prolonged bullying often manifests as a physical health issue for the aggrieved party. As such, matters of workplace bullying fall within the jurisdiction of the OHS legislation.

Numerous public workplace safety and bullying campaigns have been directed at breaking down barriers and opening the lines of communication between employees and employers. It is common for employees to feel reluctant in seeking guidance and instructions or to speak out about bullying. Other employees are worried about losing their job or being ridiculed if they say no to what they perceive to be an unsafe or potentially hazardous task or stop to bullying.

A workplace culture needs to be created that makes it easier and safer for people to speak out about workplace safety and bullying issues. To encourage people to come forward on workplace safety and bullying, employers must make those wishing to report inappropriate behaviour feel safe and secure and support them in reporting unsafe work practices confidentially and anonymously.

An internal or workplace safety reporting systems will not ensure that a report is made in all cases. A complementary external model maintains an employers´ responsibility to their employees and provides the balance needed for optimal levels of reporting in all cases.

This approach is the key to effective occupational health and safety management.

The mechanisms for workplace safety reporting need to be considered to ensure they suit the workplace, its culture and that they reflect advances in technology. Methods of reporting, such as subjecting people (whistleblowers) to a face to face interview or interrogation over the telephone together with the risk of being identified, misunderstood or misquoted are no longer the only suitable or appropriate options. Other OHS occupational health and safety management alternatives need to be explored and implemented.

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