What are the WHS responsibilities of supervisors?

Supervisors are responsible for health and safety in their own work areas. They must implement the organisation’s health and safety systems in their work area. In practice this means that supervisors must:

  • implement the risk management process in their areas through regular workplace inspections and risk assessments by identifying and fixing hazards before they cause problems
  • consult with their workers and others such as contractors and trainees working in their area to involve them in health and safety matters so everyone is working safely and contributing to safety in the area
  • model exemplary behaviour that demonstrates their commitment to health and safety and their commitment to treat everyone in the workplace equally, fairly and with respect
  • act on any unsafe condition or incident or any health and safety issue that they are aware of. If they can’t solve it then they should report it to their manager or as appropriate, e.g. to the maintenance manager
  • train their staff so that they work safely and don’t endanger the safety of others
  • have a detailed understanding of the safety performance of their own area and be able to report on that performance. 

It is most important for supervisors to act on matters reported to them, to do everything in their power to reduce or eliminate hazards. Supervisors should also take pro-active action to reduce or eliminate hazards before they cause problems.

What are the WHS responsibilities of workers?

Workers responsibilities include:

  • taking reasonable care of their own health and safety
  • taking reasonable care that their own conduct does not adversely affect others
  • following reasonable instructions such as work instructions
  • cooperating with workplace policies and procedures such as wearing personal protective equipment.

How is WHS legislation enforced?

WHS legislation is regulated by each state and territory government WHS authority. These are:

The authorities aim for compliance with the legislation. They employ inspectors to provide advice on compliance. The inspectors make every effort to assist companies to comply with the legislation but if the company is not co-operating or if there are breaches of the legislation the WHS Act provides a range of graduated enforcement options. This includes:

  • issuing a non-disturbance notice, e.g. it is a requirement of the legislation that areas where there has been a notifiable accident (ie an accident where someone is injured and requires hospitalisation) are not disturbed in any way until otherwise directed by an authority inspector
  • issuing an improvement notice, e.g. an inspector may observe workers on the legging stand and issue an improvement notice requiring all workers on the legging stand wear fall restraint personal protective equipment because no engineering controls can be put in place that still enable the work to be done
  • issuing a prohibition notice, e.g. an inspector may see that a piece of equipment has a guard removed. The inspector may issue a prohibition notice
  • that the equipment cannot be used until the guard has been replaced and is operating
  • issuing an undertaking for the company to take remedial action
  • issuing an injunction. Where the court finds a person guilty of an offence, the court may issue an order (an injunction) requiring the person to take corrective actions
  • issuing an enforceable undertaking. This means the inspector may accept a written undertaking from the person that the person must then comply. This allows businesses to implement effective work health and safety initiatives and improve work safety as an alternative to prosecution.
  • issuing a penalty notice. A penalty notice may be issued for certain serious offences, for example removing asbestos without a licence. Because they do not involve court proceedings, they are a quicker option for dealing with offences under WHS laws. The amount is specified in legislation and is much lower than the maximum penalty that may be issued by the court.
  • initiating prosecution. Legal prosecutions may be conducted through the courts against individuals, employers or businesses who have broken WHS laws. Prosecutions through the courts are a last resort, and only carried out in the most serious cases.

In the event of a prosecution the reverse onus of proof has been removed. Under the old legislation if you were prosecuted you had to prove you had made every effort to comply with the legislation. Under the new legislation the burden of proof rests with the prosecution that is the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you failed to comply with the legislation.

Penalties for breaches of the WHS legislation may incur fines to the company and/or fines and gaol sentences to individuals including directors, managers, supervisors or anyone associated with the business. Prosecutions are under criminal law. Fines to corporations may be as high as $3 million and fines to individuals may be as high as $600,000 to CEOs and $300,000 to other individuals. Gaol sentences to individuals may be up to a maximum of five years.