Occupational health and safety: don't leave it to chance
As occupational health and safety laws are standardised around Australia – and strengthened at the same time – business owners and managers face new challenges to ensure they’re running safe workplaces.
The new laws place a direct responsibility on ALL company officers – owners, directors, company secretaries, CFOs and supervisors - to take positive action to prevent accidents, or face the legal consequences.
And, says Andrew Douglas of M + K Lawyers, employees will now have a clearly defined role too. If they ignore reasonable and lawful directions, they may also find themselves before the courts.
Ignoring workplace safety laws can be very costly indeed
The new maximum penalties under OH&S law for reckless conduct that leads to death or serious injury will certainly catch your attention:
- For a business, a $3 million fine
- For a company officer, $600,000
- For an employee, $300,000
- And a maximum jail sentence of 5 years
And don't overlook people working from home – that's treated as a workplace too, under the Fair Work and Workers Compensation Acts, as well as workplace safety laws.
It's not just about accidents, bullying also comes under OH&S law
Inappropriate jokes, racial stereotyping, gender-based comments – not to mention actual physical assault – all come under the heading of bullying and harassment in OH&S law.
And it's no excuse for business owners or managers to say they didn't know it was going on, or thought it was just a bit of workplace fun. Joydeep Hor, of People and Culture Strategies, says that workplace laws place an obligation on them to be pro-active, on the look-out for potential problems and prepared to deal with them promptly and effectively.
Businesses must not only be able to demonstrate that they have a clear anti-bullying policy, but that they’ve communicated it effectively to their employees and provided proper training. It's estimated that bullying and harassment, with their effects on staff morale and productivity and ultimately legal action, cost Australian businesses billions of dollars a year. It's worth taking steps to avoid contributing to that cost.
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