Workplace Safety

Workplace Relations and Safety

Employers must comply with a range of WHS legislation, regulations and codes of practice. Each state has a Work Health and Safety Act (the WHS Act) that provides a framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work. They also protect the health and safety of all other people who might be affected by the work, including:

  • employees;
  • contractors;
  • subcontractors;
  • outworkers;
  • apprentices and trainees;
  • work experience students;
  • voluneers; and
  • employers who perform work.

The WHS Act also provides protection for members of the public so that their health and safety is not placed at risk by work activities.

The WHS Act places the primary health and safety duty on a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). The PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers at the workplace. Duties are also placed on officers of a PCBU, workers and other persons at a workplace. All duties under the WHS Act are qualified by the term ‘reasonably practicable’.

Compliance and enforcement

In each Australian State and Territory, the relevant government department is empowered under the law to respond to health and safety incidents at workplaces.

Breaches

Examples of breaches of the WHS Act include:

  • exposing workers to the risk of excessive noise;
  • working at heights where the risk of falling is not controlled;
  • allowing unlicensed operators to use specified equipment (e.g. forklifts);
  • not ensuring that plant is appropriately guarded to eliminate or minimise exposure of workers to moving parts;
  • failing to have in place safe work method statements for work carried out in or near a confined space; and
  • not notifying Workplace Health and Safety when a notifiable serious injury or illness occurs at your workplace.

Please note, each State and Territory has similar, but not entirely the same provisions.

Workers’ Compensation

Each state has workers’ compensation legislation and regulators that establish the workers’ compensation scheme, set out the laws for workers’ compensation and rehabilitation, and for managing insurance, compensation, rehabilitation, damages and costs.

Employer’s must have workers’ compensation insurance and comply with their policy and legislated obligations in managing ill and injured workers.

In the instance of a dispute about workers’ compensation decisions, employers will be obliged to comply with the instructions of their State authority in dealing with those disputes.

Bullying and Harassment

Workplace bullying occurs when:

  • an individual or group of individuals repeatedly behaves unreasonably towards a worker or a group of workers at work,

AND

  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Importantly, reasonable management action conducted in a reasonable manner does not constitute workplace bullying.

Bullying behaviours can include:

  • the making of vexatious allegations against a worker;
  • spreading rude and/or inaccurate rumours about an individual, and
  • conducting an investigation in a grossly unfair manner.

The following behaviours could also be considered as bullying, based on cases heard in other jurisdictions:

  • aggressive and intimidating conduct;
  • belittling or humiliating comments;
  • victimization;
  • spreading malicious rumours;
  • practical jokes or initiation;
  • exclusion from work-related events; and
  • unreasonable work expectations.

Workplace bullying often results in adverse consequences for an individual’s health and wellbeing.  However, proof of actual harm to health and safety is not necessary under the anti-bullying laws. It is sufficient to establish that the conduct demonstrated poses a risk to health and safety.

Management policies consistently and effectively applied are important tools in managing the risks of workplace bullying as is an understanding that there is no ‘typical’ bully and each complaint should be treated objectively and on its own merit. Employees can lodge a dispute with the FWC if they are affected by bullying in their employment. If the employer cannot or will not resolve the situation, the FWC has the power to make orders to manage bullying in a workplace.