Mind the gap: protecting your workers and your business from safety risk

There has been an influx of media attention focused on the increase of Work Health and Safety (WHS) penalties recently across Australia. This week Victoria and Northern Territory became the third and fourth Australian jurisdictions to make Workplace Manslaughter a criminal offence with Western Australia proposing the same. With employers now facing penalties up to $16.5 million and a jail term of up to 20 years (maximum of life in some states), it’s clear every workplace must place safety as a top priority.

Last year we have seen several Directors and Business owners prosecuted for failing to comply with their health and safety obligations. In New South Wales we saw a sole director of a small plumbing business who was convicted and ordered to pay fines for failing to exercise due diligence as an Officer. In Victoria, a 72 year old woman was convicted and sentenced to six months jail (in addition to fines) for reckless endangerment at her scrap metal yard in Foster after the death of a man who fell from a bin he had been standing in, which had been raised three metres off the ground by a forklift operated by the woman (who did not hold a forklift license).

With penalties increasing it’s also important to keep in mind insurance policies for Directors won’t protect those guilty of WHS breaches.

When an incident occurs, the Regulator will ensure the owners of businesses are directly accountable for what has occurred. Incidents are considered a reflection of safety leadership and how safety is prioritised within the business.

How do you know if you are complying with WHS laws?

It’s not always an easy task determining if you are complying with WHS legislation and it can be more challenging to uncover flaws within your own internal safety systems or processes – particularly if you have become accustomed to the way you operate, and you don’t have the right training or understanding of the up-to-date legislation.

Every workplace is unique and determining your WHS risk profile requires an understanding of the work you do and the critical hazards your workers are exposed to.

An external safety gap analysis (or audit) works by systematically looking into the current status of your safety system and can uncover any gaps in your system. The review can measure levels of compliance against relevant legislation and identifies areas to improve so you can prioritise where you will focus first with your safety activities. Read more about Ai Group’s WHS Gap Analysis approach here, including how we can simplify this process for you to maximise your results to achieve optimum safety performance and compliance.

When it comes to the safety of your workers and avoiding injuries – and protecting the business from prosecution – there’s no room to be complacent. Being prepared and proactive about safety within the workplace is what matters. Exercise due diligence; manage your critical risks; continually improve and check in with a gap analysis every 1-2 years.

For more information on how Ai Group can assist you to identify your current situation and help you to plan improvements, contact the Ai Group Safety & Workers’ Compensation Services team at safety.services@aigroup.com.au.

Don’t forget – Ai Group’s Health and Safety Resource Centre has a variety of comprehensive and practical information, resources and advice to help you with developing your safety management systems!

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Trinette Jaeschke is Ai Group's National Manager – Safety and Workers' Compensation Services. Trinette has over 20 years’ experience in Work Health Safety and Injury Management within the private and public sector, including transport and logistics, manufacturing, warehousing, agriculture, mining, finance, food processing, foundries, health services and aged care.

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