Do your employees know your safety rules?

Documenting your health and safety rules is just one step toward ensuring your business is complying with the WHS Act and providing a safe work environment for your staff, clients, and customers.

Ensuring that they are followed by workers is the key to protecting your organisation.

A NSW District Court Judge recently ordered a company to pay $145,000 in fines and costs after he determined their site supervisor “created a risk and put a worker in harm’s way” when he didn’t follow his own safety systems and directed a subcontractor to perform work which contravened the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) in place.

What happens when safety rules are not followed

In this particular situation, a subcontractor was hired to undertake excavation work on a building site. A worker entered a 3.5 metre-deep pit using a free-standing ladder, then the ladder was removed to be used elsewhere on site.

When the worker needed to exit the pit, the site supervisor instructed the excavator operator to lift the labourer out of the pit using the excavator bucket rather than returning the safe access point. Not surprisingly, the worker fell from the bucket and sustained a serious knee injury leaving him unable to work for more than two years.

A breach of the WHS Codes of Practice and WHS Regulation

Both the principal contractor and the excavator operator did in fact have well-documented safety rules in place. The SWMS stated that excavators shouldn’t be used within 15 metres of people, and in particular, that equipment or attachments must not be used to lift people. The site supervisor’s role should be, in part, to ensure that work is completed in accordance with the documented safe system of work, whether this is the principal contractor’s, or subcontractor’s.

Who holds responsibility for safety on site?

Both the principal contractor and the subcontractor in this case are determined as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), carrying out high risk work in connection with a construction project.

While they met their responsibility under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 to ensure SWMS were prepared prior to the commencement of the work, and to provide the SWMS to the relevant workers before the work commenced, they failed to ensure that work was carried out in accordance with the SWMS in place.

Although the excavator operator’s actions caused the injury, the person directing the work was ultimately held liable for both failing to provide safe access and egress from the pit and directing the excavator to use an unsafe work method.

Ensuring supervisors follow your SWMS

Communication and training are important to ensure that your supervisors, contractors, and employees are aware of, understand, and follow SWMS.

  • WHS Training: Train your supervisors in the content and use of your Safe Work Method Statements and other safety documentation, as well as their overarching WHS responsibilities and liability under the WHS Act.
  • Toolbox Talks: Have regular safety meetings or Toolbox Talks to discuss the potential workplace hazards and risks, how these risks can be eliminated, or minimised, and what control measures are in place to manage this.
  • Spot Checks: Undertake spot checks of your supervisors and contractors to ensure that the documented safe systems of work are being complied with. This is also a good opportunity to consult with workers to improve your systems.
  • Performance Management: Implement formal performance management measures where there is non-compliance or non-adherence to your workplace safety measures.

WHS training and support for your business.

The team at Masula Compliance have extensive experience in managing work health and safety compliance in partnership with clients.

We can prepare SWMS and WHS Management Plans for your business, and develop and deliver appropriate training for contractors, supervisors, and employees.

Not sure where to start? Call us on 07 3348 3666 or send us an email with your enquiry at to arrange a complimentary consultation.