Workplace Fatalities – Are These Incidents Avoidable?
On Wednesday, 18 November 2015 three workers died in tragic workplace accidents in Perth:
Two men were crushed by a concrete slab which fell off a delivery truck at a Jaxon apartment building site in East Perth. Another man was killed when he fell from a considerable height at Alcoa’s Kwinana aluminium factory. In the last financial year, Western Australia recorded 22 workplace deaths, the highest in seven years.
These accidents are tragic and have had profound impact on the families, co-workers and employers of the deceased workers. This article will highlight how businesses can mitigate the risk involved in workplace incidents like these, by having an effective work health and safety management system (WHSM System) and a critical incident response plan (CIR Plan).
Every employer in Western Australia has an obligation to, so far as practicable, provide and maintain a working environment in which their employees are not exposed to hazards1. Employers must also have in place safe systems of work 2.
A workplace means a place where employees or self-employed persons work or are likely to be in the course of their work 3. A workplace can include a building, a work site, vehicle or a home office.
A business that controls a workplace, or controls the way in or out of the workplace, has a duty to take such measures as are practicable to ensure that no one (including employees, subcontractors and visitors) is exposed to hazards at this place 4.
Businesses meet these obligations by developing and continually implementing a WHSM System that includes work health and safety (WHS) policies and procedures. Focus areas of the WHSM System depend on the particular activities of the business. Most WHSM Systems include the following policies and procedures:
- workplace inspections
- risk and hazard management
- emergency response
- manual handling
- drug and alcohol
- bullying prevention
Make sure your WHSM System is not an ‘off the shelf’ template that just requires you to insert your business name. Your WHSM system needs to include policies and procedures that are suitable for you and your business, so that you can fully meet your legal obligations.
Making your WHS policies and procedures ‘living documents’
A WHSM System can be a powerful tool in providing and maintaining a safe working environment. A WHSM System is useless though if your workers don’t engage with it and make it a part of their day to day work lives.
There are many ways a business can make its WHS policies and procedures ‘living documents’, including:
- involving workers in the development and implementation of the WHSM System, including review and update
- investing in regular, ongoing and engaging training, in which workers are actively involved in learning about and implementing every policy and procedure in the WHSM System
- providing workers with achievable work health and safety goals, and rewarding workers when these goals are met
Critical incident response plan
What if you do have a critical incident at your workplace? Do you know what to do if WorkSafe conducts an investigation? An investigation of a ‘critical incident’ in your workplace can result in immediate closure of your business. Breaches of work health and safety laws by a business are criminal offences and can carry substantial fines. This is why every business should work with a WHS lawyer to develop a CIR Plan which will include:
- incident reporting
- communications with external parties
- compelled and voluntary interviews
- document management
- family and co-worker support
No matter what the size of your business, you have serious WHS obligations
All businesses, no matter what the size, are obliged – so far as reasonably practicable – to provide a safe workplace. This means your business should have an effective WHSM System and CIR Plan, so your workers know exactly what to do if anyone is injured or killed at your workplace.
For assistance developing your WHSM System, WHS policies and procedures and your CIR Plan please contact the workplace law team at Lynn & Brown Lawyers on 9375 3411.
- Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA) (OSH Act) s 19(1).
- OSH Act s 19(1)(a).
- OSH Act s 3 (Definition of ‘workplace’).
- OSH Act s(3).
About the author:
Shzan Plandowski is a law graduate working in the area of workplace law at Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Shzan has experience is corporate and property law.