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Workplace Health and Safety

In 2011 the Queensland Government rolled out the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 which places obligations on Queensland businesses to properly manage health and safety in the workplace.

The Act sets out a number of objects to secure the workers’ health and safety by:-

  1. protecting workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising from work or from particular types of substances or plant; and
  2. providing for fair and effective workplace representation, consultation, cooperation and issue resolution in relation to work health and safety; and
  3. encouraging unions and employer organisations to take a constructive role in promoting improvements in work health and safety practices, and assisting persons conducting businesses or undertakings and workers to achieve a healthier and safer working environment; and
  4. promoting the provision of advice, information, education and training in relation to work health and safety; and
  5. securing compliance with this Act through effective and appropriate compliance and enforcement measures; and
  6. ensuring appropriate scrutiny and review of actions by persons exercising powers and performing functions under this Act; and
  7. providing a framework for continuous improvement and progressively higher standards of work health and safety; and
  8. maintaining and strengthening the national harmonisation of laws relating to work health and safety and to facilitate a consistent national approach to work health and safety in Queensland.

The first step for a business to meet the requirements of this Act is to have in place workplace health and safety policies and procedures.

These policies would provide for the principles, objectives, obligations and commitments tailored to each specific business. By having the policies in place it goes to:-

  • reducing legal risk;
  • demonstrating that your business has considered its health and safety obligations;
  • clarifying functions and responsibilities within your business.
  • saving time by allowing health and safety matters to be handled quickly through an established procedure;
  • ensuring that safe systems of work are documented, communicated to workers and implemented.
  • helping your business to manage staff effectively and efficiently; and
  • improves the health and wellbeing of employees.

A good workplace health and safety policy should at least cover:

  • what is expected of workers, e.g. behaviour and performance standards;
  • rules and guidelines for decision-making in routine situations;
  • a process for dealing with situations which might arise to risk health and safety.

among other things.

Once established a policy should be made available to all workers to refer to as needed, and be provided to all new incoming workers.

What if you don’t have a workplace health and safety policy?

If there is an exposure in the workplace to a health and safety risk the Office of Work Health and Safety has the power to prosecute companies and individuals that fail to meet the standards.

For a category 1 offence (reckless conduct), if there is an exposure to an individual of risk of death or serious injury, the offence can attract a fine of up to $800,000 for an individual, and $4 million for a company.

For the lowest category 3 offence (a simply failure to comply with the health and safety duty) the fine can be up to $133,000 for an individual and $667,000 for a company.

If there is a breach of the Act, having an effective workplace health and safety policy in place will assist in reducing the level of risk to a worker, and also the fine a Court may impose.

If your business does not have a workplace health and safety policy in place, or needs a refresher of the current policy, or if you have been charged with a breach of the Act, contact one of our employment lawyers for tailored advice on 1300 258 888.



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