Government issues clear WH&S crackdown warning
With the Queensland Government’s audit of work health and safety (WH&S) laws, procedures and policy currently under way, it should not come as a shock to employers that WH&S is currently at the forefront of Government debate and things are likely going to get a lot tougher moving forward.
Head of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland Dr Simon Blackwood issued this stark warning:
“Let it be clear that in this state, we will make those who bend or break the rules accountable, bringing justice to those who have been wronged and deterring others from making the same mistakes.”
When commenting on the audit, Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said the Government was delivering on its commitment to carry out the safety audits, following a tragic series of workplace incidents in 2016. It was stated that:
“After last year’s tragedies at Eagle Farm and Dreamworld concerns were raised about public safety matters in Queensland and the effectiveness of current offences and penalties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.”
“Two workers were crushed to death at Eagle Farm and four people lost their lives at a popular theme park due to a catastrophic failure of an amusement ride. We owe it to the families not only to find out exactly what happened, but to make sure it never happens again.”
As it currently stands, employers can be prosecuted for negligence, which carries maximum penalties of five years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $3 million for corporations, $600,000 for individual directors and $300,000 for others.
The best practice audit will consider whether an offence of ‘gross negligence causing death’ and an increase in the current penalties will serve as a stronger deterrent for non-compliance in light of the shocking increase in work related deaths and injuries in the last 12 months.
These proposed changes are not to be taken lightly and Dr Blackwood also warned that:
“If employers aren’t prepared to play by the rules, then they are going to feel the full force of the law and face hefty fines, convictions or even both.
Since July this year, we have successfully completed 21 prosecutions in the courts, leading to fines totalling three quarters of a million dollars.
Further, we have issued 39 infringement notices with fines totalling more than $101,200, as well as 975 improvement notices and 284 prohibition notices.”
The findings and recommendations of the audit will be presented to the Government by the middle of the year.
What should employers do in the meantime?
Employers need to pay close attention to their WH&S obligations and ensure that they are compliant. Employers should:
- Stay up to date with WH&S changes and how they apply to their business;
- Remain vigilant in reducing the risks of injuries and reportable incidents in the workplace;
- Ensure appropriate procedures, policies and processes are in place in order to ensure the health and safety of all those at the workplace (including employees, contractors and the like); and
- Ensure that all plant, equipment and vehicles are maintained and are safe for use at all times.
If you have concerns regarding your compliance with your WH&S obligations or if you would like guidance or advice on how to best manage your responsibilities, do not hesitate to contact our Workplace Team who are here ready to assist.