By Adrian Turner

WorkSafe Victoria will soon commence issuing infringement notices to businesses operating hazardous worksites, with financial fines of up to 10 penalty units, or $1817.40 on a range of Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) offences.

The new enforcement mechanism stems from the 2018 election commitment from the Victorian Government and will provide WorkSafe with a more direct and swifter alternative to prosecution for employers who are non-compliant with their key OH&S obligations.

WorkSafe has stated that infringement notices can be issued for a range of fundamental offences including:

  • a person undertaking work without a required license, registration, qualification, experience or supervision;
  • the use of equipment or substances that are not licensed or registered as required;
  • failing to meet various duties relating to the removal and storage of asbestos; and
  • failure to keep various required records.

The workplace safety regulator has stated that the infringement notice scheme is designed to strengthen its compliance and enforcement capability and act as an additional deterrent to help keep Victorian workplaces safe.

Fines under the new scheme will vary depending on the nature of the offence and range from 0.5 penalty units to 10 penalty units ($1817.40) for a corporation and up to two penalty units ($363.48) for an individual.

The ‘on the spot’ regime augments WorkSafe’s primary enforcement mechanism, being the investigation and prosecution of breaches of the OHS Act in the courts – which itself leads to extreme financial penalties for corporations, and in serious cases, criminal prosecution for individuals.

What does this mean for employers?

An employer’s fundamental duties and obligations under OH&S law have not changed.  Principally, employers have obligations under OH&S legislation to do whatever is reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of their employees in the workplace.

WorkSafe now simply has more options at its disposal to punish employers who do not comply and compromise the health and safety of their employees in the process.

Employers who promote a positive ‘safety culture’ and have best practice OH&S management systems in place to identify hazards and control risks, have no reason to be concerned by WorkSafe’s new powers.  However, the new penalty scheme serves as a timely reminder to employers that they must have their house in order when it comes to safety of their worksite – particularly at ‘high risk’ work sites.

Tips to create a safe worksite and avoid penalties

SafeWork’s new powers are severe – failing to comply may not only mean the burden of a financial penalty, but also the reputational damage and time spent repairing this wrong – I am sure that this is something you’d rather avoid all together!

So, what are some key things that businesses can do to start creating a safer working environment? When was the last time your OH&S was audited for best practice? Do you have a Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) for all high-risk construction work? Is the business regularly updating its risk register with a view to continuous improvement?

As an employer, it’s important that you regularly ask yourself these questions (amongst many others) to help you assess if your business is complying with OH&S legislation.

Keeping your people safe and well while they work is the most important job you have as an employer and the best way you can do that is by ensuring your business has the right systems and tools in place.

If your business is looking for help to improve its OH&S management system, conducting an OH&S audit, or you need some advice and support on a range of safety matters including penalties and compliance, the team at HR Assured would be pleased to help you.

For HR Assured clients, contact our 24/7 Telephone Advisory Service.

Not an HR Assured client and need some advice? The team at HR Assured can support your business on a range of workplace matters. Contact us today to arrange a confidential, no-obligation chat.

Adrian Turner is a Senior Product Manager for HR Assured and General Counsel at FCB Group. Adrian was initially employed with FCB from 2014 – 2017 as a Workplace Relations Consultant and Solicitor, where his role primarily involved assisting partners in complex workplace related disputes and employment litigation. Adrian spent the next four years working in a General Counsel role and completing his Master of Business Administration (MBA). Adrian has since returned to HR Assured in a multi-disciplinary role across the legal services and business development areas of the company. Adrian draws on his technical expertise in employment and commercial law and has his business acumen to deliver tailored advice and practical solutions to our clients.