The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) is the primary legislation governing workplace health and safety in Queensland. It contains fundamental rights and responsibilities regarding workplace safety, sets out a range of offences and penalties, and provides for the mandatory notification of certain incidents.
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) is responsible for improving workplace health and safety across Queensland. WHSQ administers and prosecutes breaches of workplace health and safety laws, investigates serious incidents and workplace fatalities, and provides education and guidance to assist employers and workers in meeting their legal obligations.
Employers’ duty to manage workplace risk
Although employers, their officers and employees all play a part in the health, safety and welfare of those in the workplace, the primary duty of care falls on the employer, as the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).
A PCBU must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers engaged by it, and workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the PCBU. Essentially, this includes employees, contractors / subcontractors, outworkers, apprentices / trainees, work experience students, volunteers, employers who perform work and the general public.
Managing risk in the workplace requires a cohesive approach to:
- identify reasonably foreseeable health and safety hazards;
- implement systems and processes to eliminate, control or minimise hazards;
- maintain, measure and review systems to ensure their effectiveness; and
- identify new or persistent risks and implement systems to control those.
- ensure a safe working environment;
- provide adequate and accessible facilities;
- provide access to first aid;
- ensure emergency plans are in place and made known to workers;
- manage risks associated with airborne contaminants, flammables and combustibles;
- manage slips, falls and risks associated with falling objects.
Many workplaces have additional and specific risks which must also be appropriately addressed and managed.
Notifiable incidents and workplace investigations
A PCBU must notify WHSQ ‘immediately after becoming aware that a notifiable incident arising out of the conduct of the business or undertaking has occurred’. A ‘notifiable incident’ means:
- the death of a person; or
- a serious injury or illness of a person; or
- a dangerous incident.
The legislation prescribes many conditions and injuries that constitute a serious injury or illness.
A ‘dangerous incident’ is an incident that exposes a worker or other person to a serious health or safety risk due to the immediate or imminent exposure to various workplace events. This encompasses a range of incidents including, but not limited to, uncontrolled spillages, leakages, explosions, fire, escape of gas, collapse of structures and falling obstacles.
In addition to notifying WHSQ, a person in control of the workplace at the time of a notifiable incident must, as far as is reasonably practicable, preserve the site where the incident occurred until an inspector arrives, or earlier as directed.
A notifiable incident is a serious matter. Once reported, employers should obtain urgent legal representation so the rights and responsibilities under the relevant laws can be properly explained and assistance provided to deal with the investigation.
The Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003 (Qld) provides a no-fault scheme for claiming benefits and resolving disputes when workers are injured, aggravate a pre-existing injury or condition or become ill:
- whilst performing their usual work duties on or off work premises;
- during an incident arising out of their employment
- whilst travelling to and from work (in some circumstances).
The scheme prescribes the type of benefits payable which generally include weekly payments during incapacity, payments for medical and treatment expenses, domestic assistance and lump sum payments for permanent impairment, pain and suffering, or death.
If you have been injured at your workplace or during the course of performing your work duties, you may be entitled to compensation.
WorkCover administers workers compensation claims, processes entitlements, manages injuries and implements return to work programs between workers, employers and insurers. Injured workers should obtain legal advice to ensure they are properly informed of their rights and entitlements in this complex area.
Workplace accidents and incidents can have devastating effects on employers, employees and their families. Workplace health and safety is a serious issue for everybody. Employers must be aware of their obligations under the relevant laws and ensure systems are in place to effectively manage workplace health and safety.
Our lawyers have a wealth of experience and can assist across all areas of workplace health and safety, whether you are pursuing or answering to a workers’ compensation claim, require assistance to implement workplace health and safety measures, or need representation during an investigation.