Workplace Health & Safety Infringements/Prosecutions

Thinking of setting up a business? Undertaking such an endeavor entails many factors that you should consider and responsibilities that you should take care of.

One of these is making sure that the health and safety concerns of your employees are addressed. When running a business, owners must take the lead in promoting the utmost health and safety of the people within the work environment. This is why Workplace Health & Safety is paramount.

Promoting Health and Safety in the Australian Workplace

Workplace Health & Safety (WHS), also previously referred to as Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S), deals with the institution of bylaws pertaining to taking care of employees’ health and to ensuring safety in the workplace. The WHS regulations operating in Australia aim to provide a legislative framework for employers as they take steps to ensure the safety of the people they employ, as well as help them stay fit and strong. These involve evaluating and managing related key issues — including their security and wellbeing — that may affect them whilst they are in the working environment.

Aside from these, the concerns of WHS also cover the actions taken by companies in developing programs to help maintain the total wellbeing of their employees. Truly, supervisors, managers, and business owners hold the responsibility of complying with these laws. Penalties and sanctions may be imposed for failure to abide by WHS mandates.

Before January 1, 2012, WHS laws varied, depending on each State and Territory in Australia. They were also more known as OH&S. This posed a problem, as the laws lacked uniformity in a national sense. To solve this, the WHS Act was established. It was intended to unite and clarify the WHS model laws that every organisation in the country can follow, wherever they may be. However, there still may be some differences in the enacted law per State and Territory, especially with the requirements.

As of now, the entire country — save for Western Australia and Victoria, which adhere to the OH&S Act — has been abiding by the WHS Act since its inception.

Business Owners’ WHS Duties

As per the country’s WHS/OH&S laws, companies must ensure that employees will have access to a safe and secure work area, which inhibits chances for injuries. There are many ways to do this, including but not limited to the following:

  • “Accident-proofing” office areas and paraphernalia
  • Providing employees with a sense of job security, especially with regards to their benefits and insurances
  • Adopting a workplace design with a framework of safety in mind
  • Teaching and training employees on work safety rules and regulations
  • Implementing a quality control system of practicing safety at work
  • Practicing effective measures to counter accidents and address them when they happen

Employees’ WHS Duties

While WHS responsibilities mostly lie on the organisation, employees must also do their part to promote WHS. One of the ways they can do this is by adhering to and practicing their organization’s safety procedures. They should also do what they can to avoid accidents, both for themselves and for their colleagues.

Failure to Comply with Workplace Health & Safety

Companies that are found guilty of noncompliance will be penalised with the appropriate sanctions. Whether it’s an office or a factory job, being lax and reckless with health and safety regulations may result in injuries or even death among employees.
Under the WHS Law, penalties range from fines to imprisonment. Offences are categorized as follows:

Category 1

This category is reserved for offences involving noncompliance with health and safety requirements, which result in a high risk of an employee encountering illness, injury, or death.

Category 2

This category is reserved for offences involving noncompliance with health and safety requirements, which result in an employee’s exposure to the possibility of illness, injury, or death.

Category 3

This category is reserved for offences involving noncompliance with health and safety requirements.

The following table shows the maximum fines/punishments* that may be given to those who breach the law:

Category of Offence Corporations Individual PCBUs**/Officers For Individual Workers**/Others
Category 1 $3 million $600,000 and/or five years imprisonment $300,000 and/or five years imprisonment
Category 2 $1.5 million $300,000 $150,000
Category 3 $500,000 $100,000 $50,000

* Some offences may also have lower fines.

** PCBU – “Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking.” Under the WHS Law, this is the term used to refer to employers. The term “workers,” on the other hand, refers to employees.
At first, the actions that need to be undertaken to abide by the WHS rules may seem heavy on the pocket. However, not complying with these requirements will result in penalties and even prosecution and court cases. In the long run, the costs of deviating from the law far outweighs that of abiding by it.

Workplace Health & Safety Compliance

Making your workplace a safe environment that promotes health is important not just to avoid the penalties imposed; spearheading such organisational culture has many benefits as well. Accidents and injuries in the workplace will decrease. Sickness among employees will also be reduced, leading to fewer cases of absences. In the long run, cost savings will increase, and the employee turnover rate will decline. Truly, WHS compliance makes happy, productive, and healthy employees, branding you ahead of the game.

The road to a safer and healthier Australia

Business proprietors are required to be accountable in directing and maintaining a healthy and safe working environment. Having a good understanding of how these WHS rules and regulations work will enable you to avoid problems, such as high rates of injuries or illnesses among your employees.

The WHS Law helps direct the promotion of health and safety among organisations across the country. However, this is just one of the ways to do such. Compliance is quintessential, and we must do our part in building a safer and healthier Australia.

If you have questions about workplace health & safety or if you need other forms of legal service, please contact us for more information.