With the new workplace health and safety laws in place in most jurisdictions of Australia, employers are exposing their businesses to hefty fines by dragging their feet on plugging compliance gaps, according to an employment lawyer.
While 2011 ended with employers scrambling to understand the requirements of the new workplace harmonisation laws, Amy Towers, work safety managing consultant at employment law firm FCB, said the focus must now turn to getting the right systems and processes in place.
“Many employers still haven’t got it quite right,” she said.
“While most have an understanding of their new health and safety responsibilities, we’re finding the practices they do have in place don’t sufficiently meet the new compliance requirements – particularly for managing temporary or contracting staff.”
Under the changes, Towers said there may be multiple parties responsible for contracting individuals: the on-hire firm, the host employer and any other party contributing to the arrangement of on-hiring the worker.
In the case of contract workers, where multiple parties are responsible for the same person, she said there must be a plan in place that shows how the on-hire firm will consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with the host employer on work health and safety matters.
“This means that before placing a contractor in a role, the on-hire firm must engage with the client, such as the host employer, to map out a process for managing work health and safety to achieve the desired outcomes – including how they will communicate with each other and manage risk cooperatively,” Towers said.
She also noted that employers must demonstrate they are taking a proactive approach to health and safety, instead of simply reacting.
“They need to have evidence of putting a plan in place to: deal with health and safety; manage risk; consult and coordinate with multiple parties; and monitor progress on an ongoing basis,” said Towers, who also serves as an adviser to web-based employment screening solution WorkPro.
“It’s this documented evidence that is letting organisations down, and is most likely to be audited by regulators,” she said.