Business owners must take an active role in managing Occupational Health & Safety and not take for granted their contractor’s OH&S credentials or rely on the expertise of contractors alone.
A recent decision by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission demonstrates that an employer cannot contract out their responsibility for OH&S and contractors must have written procedures before commencing any contracted work, verify their safety and nominate a suitably qualified supervisor.
The ever-changing OH&S legislation demands businesses devote more time and resources to managing OH&S, yet many small businesses do not have such resources or fully understand their obligations. They rely on their contractors to ‘do the right thing’ and incorrectly assume they won’t be liable if something goes wrong.
The case involved a major transport company that contracted with a fuel supplier to remove fuel from an underground storage tank. The company agreed on a compliant method and was assured that the contractor had the necessary expertise and that an appropriately qualified person would be present to supervise the operation. Unbeknown to the company, the contractor then sub-contracted the operation. During the operation an employee of the sub-contractor decided the method was too slow and used a quicker, more dangerous process. This resulted in an explosion in which a worker suffered serious burns to his face and chest.
The fuel supplier was fined $240,000 for its role in the incident and the transport company was fined $150,000 (out of a maximum of $825,000).
Employers should be aware that lack of knowledge about the work being completed and engaging appropriately qualified contractors, with good safety records, will not relieve them of their obligations. They can still be in breach of the OH&S Act and be penalised accordingly.
Northern Rivers Employer Convicted on OH&S Matters.
In another incident the Industrial Relations Court recently imposed penalties of $95,000 on a Northern Rivers company for its failure to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all of its employees and $12,000 for its failure to undertake workplace consultation. The sole director of the company was also charged and fined an amount of $9,500.
The incident involved an employee suffering injuries after falling through a skylight panel and onto a concrete floor while dismantling scaffolding. Although the employer had previously advised his employees to stay away from the skylights, there were different employees working on the site on different days, and not all employees had received the briefing.
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