Recently there have been a number of changes to health and safety legislation in Queensland. These changes may affect all businesses especially those who have appointed health and safety representatives. Below is a summary of the changes and what you can do to remain compliant.
Work Health and Safety Officer and Health and Safety Representatives
The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 has been amended to allow organisations to appoint a Work Health and Safety Officer, which is not to be confused with the WHSO of the previous Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995. The new officer role is an optional appointment which may assist in providing a defence if something does go wrong.
Having an appropriately trained WHSO and HSR’s who are able to drive effective WHS systems within the organisation is now seen as a way to prove Officers are meeting their due diligence requirements. While this is just a new addition to the legislation and has not been thoroughly tested in the courts the effectiveness of this defence will likely hinge on whether the individuals are provided appropriate training, resources and authority to successfully perform their roles. Other changes to WHSO and HSR requirements include:
- The details of the organisation’s WHSO or HSR, where elected, must be communicated to workers.
- HSRs must receive approved training within 6 months (previously optional) and refresher training at least every 3 years.
- The details of the elected HSRs/ Deputy HSRs also need to be provided to Work Health and Safety Queensland.
In regards to industrial manslaughter, both the organisation (PCBU) and its senior offices can now be charged with manslaughter, in addition to an offence under the Work Health and Safety Act. A senior officer is not necessarily determined by a position title but rather the control they have within the organisation. The penalties can be up to 20 years in prison for individuals and $10,000,000 for the Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) if a worker dies because the conduct (act or omissions) of the organisation’s senior officer/s was negligent. One organisation has already been prosecuted in Qld under the new provisions.
Although organisation’s do not normally intentionally put workers or others at risk, not knowing or assuming worker are doing the right things are not defenses. It is essential to protect the health and safety of all workers. There are steps you can take to maintain the safety of all officers and workers:
- Put in place safe systems of work based on a risk management approach.
- Train, instruct and supervise workers to ensure they comply with the safe systems of work;
- Keep records of compliance to your safe system of work;
- Monitor and review safety systems to ensure they remain effective.
Codes of Practice
As was previously included in the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995, Codes of Practice again have significant legislative standing. They must be compiled with unless another way of controlling risks, which provides the same or greater protection, is implemented. Ensuring that Codes are referred to when developing and reviewing safe systems of work is one way that you can ensure your business is compliant with the updated requirement. Codes of Practice will also be required to be reviewed and updated every five years.
Contact us for more information or help understanding your WHS obligations.