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OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY - EMPLOYEE

WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE ACT?

The work place health and safety obligations you owe others and the nature of any such obligations will depend upon your relationship with the other relevant parties.

Employer

As an employer you are obliged to ensure the workplace health and safety of each of the employer's workers at work. An employer is also obliged to ensure the manner in which the employer conducts business does not affect the workplace health and safety of the employer or others.

Person in control of a work place

Briefly stated, if you are a person in control of a workplace, you are obliged to minimise the risk of injury or illness to persons at the workplace. The obligation extends to the manner in which work is conducted at the work place, the method of accessing the workplace and the way in which plant or substances are used at the work place.

Worker

As a worker you have obligations to comply with your employer's workplace health and safety instructions and to use protective equipment provided by the employer. Further, a worker must not to wilfully or recklessly interfere with or misuse workplace health and safety equipment or wilfully injure or expose to injury any person, including himself or herself, at the workplace.

Principal contractors

A principal contractor for a construction workplace is, in summary, obliged:

  • generally to ensure workplace health and safety in the workplace, and assist an employer or self-employed person to discharge his or her workplace health and safety obligations;
  • not to expose others to risks from things or hazards at the work place for which no other person owes a workplace health and safety obligation;
  • to ensure that workplace activities at the workplace are safe and without risk of injury or illness to members of the public at or near the workplace;
  • to provide safeguards and take safety measures prescribed under a regulation;
  • to ensure an employer or self-employed person discharges his or her workplace health and safety obligation;
  • if an employer or self-employed person is not complying with a workplace health and safety obligation, direct that person to do so; and
  • if an employer or self employed person fails to comply with the above mentioned direction, further direct the employer or self employed person to stop work until that person agrees to comply with his or her obligations.

Persons concerned with certain plant or equipment at a work place

Manufacturers, designers, importers or suppliers of certain plant or substances for use at certain work places all have work place health and safety obligations. If you are within one or more of these classes of people, you may have obligations:

  • to ensure the relevant plant or substance is designed and constructed so as to be safe for use;
  • to ensure the relevant plant or substance has undergone appropriate testing and examination;
  • ensure appropriate information about the safe use of the plant or substance is available; and
  • to take the action the chief executive reasonably requires to prevent the use of unsafe plant or substance (eg recall a dangerously defective power tool).

If you own, erect or install plant at certain work places you also have work place health and safety obligations. If you own certain plant, you have an obligation to ensure such plant is maintained in a safe condition so that it is safe when used properly. If you erect or install certain plant, you have an obligation to do so safely and also to ensure that it is erected or installed so that it is safe when used properly.

Other persons at work places

If you do not fall within any of the preceding classes of person who have specific work place health and safety obligations you have general obligations at a workplace. If you are at a work place you are obliged to comply with an employer's workplace health and safety instructions. Further, a person at a workplace must not wilfully or recklessly interfere with or misuse workplace health and safety equipment or wilfully injure or expose to injury any person, including himself or herself, at the workplace. 

REGULATIONS AND ADVISORY STANDARDS

The government, through the Governor in Council, may make regulations in order to minimise or prohibit exposure to risk. These regulations, for legal purposes, form part of the Act.

Further, the relevant government minister may make advisory standards and industry codes of practice for the purpose of managing the exposure work place health and safety risks. You are entitled to inspect, during normal business hours codes of practice, which must be made available by the relevant government minister without charge.

It is important that you are aware of any regulations or codes of practice which might impact upon the manner in which you conduct your work. Unfortunately, due to the vast range of different fields of work it is impossible to deal with the relevant regulations and codes applicable to each person. Therefore you should consult your union, make inquiries with the government or consult a lawyer to determine exactly how your obligations may have been affected by administrative acts of the government. 

SAFETY OFFICERS

If an employer employs 30 workers or more, the employer is required to appoint a workplace health and safety officer (a safety officer). A person can only be appointed a safety officer if the person holds a certificate of qualification prescribed by the regulations.

A principal contractor for a construction workplace also must appoint a safety officer in certain circumstances. That is, a safety officer must be appointed if 30 or more persons work at the workplace during any 24 hour period or if the principal contractor has built at least 30 domestic premises during the previous financial year. Also, the regulations can provide for circumstances in which a principal contractor must appoint a safety officer.

An employer or principal contractor may commit an offence by not complying with the provisions of the Act regarding safety officers. An employer or principal contractor is required to help safety officers. If you are an employer or principal contractor who has appointed a safety officer, you must:

  • display a notice advising the identity of the safety officer for the workplace;
  • provide to the safety officer information in your possession about workplace health and safety risks;
  • include the safety officer at interviews with a worker about workplace health and safety;
  • consult the safety officer on any proposed changes which may affect workplace health and safety at the workplace; and
  • help the safety officer to seek appropriate advice on issues that affect, or may affect, workplace health and safety at the workplace.

If you are a safety officer, you have a number of functions, including:

  • conducting inspections and or investigations at the workplace;
  • reporting to the employer or principal contractor regarding workplace health and safety practices and the overall state of work place health and safety;
  • establishing appropriate educational programs;
  • assisting inspectors to perform their duties; and
  • reporting to the employer or principal contractor any work injury, work caused illness, dangerous event or immediate risk to workplace health or safety at the workplace.

FURTHER INFORMATION

This Information Outline is provided courtesy of Hall Payne Lawyers who are experienced in this area of law. They are located at Level 9, 344 Queen Street, Brisbane, QLD 4000 or call them on (07) 3221-2044 if you would like more information on this legal topic, or you wish to obtain formal advice regarding your situation.

Hall Payne Lawyers are an established Queensland firm practicing in the areas of employment law (unfair dismissal etc), accident compensation (WorkCover, motor vehicle accident, personal injuries), anti-discrimination & harassment, consumer law, family law, wills & estates, criminal law and conveyancing. Hall Payne Lawyers are a founding member of the Australia-wide PeopleLaw group.

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