Work Health and Safety laws: the harsh reality

In January 2012, an employee of a Queensland gardening services company was tipped from a basket of an elevating work platform (EWP), resulting in him fracturing his forearm. This was deemed to be due to a beach of S.19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, as the defendant company had failed to meet its workplace health and safety duties.

In July 2013, the defendant company pled guilty, and was sentenced to a fine of $70,000. During the sentencing the Magistrate acknowledged the defendant failed to maintain the EWP such that it had become a “rust bucket” and “an accident waiting to happen”. The Magistrate also ordered professional costs of $1000, and filing fees of $79.* This is all on top of the cost of legal representation and the like. Needless to say, this would have proven to be quite an expensive incident for the defendant. (CLICK HERE to have a read of the court summary)

Workplace health and safety (WHS) should not to be taken lightly.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because this story cites an industry other than ours, newsagents are immune to WHS fines and prosecutions.  Fortunately, the newsagency industry has so far avoided any fines, but that does not mean this will always be the case. Think how easy it would be for a junior employee to fall off a ladder while rearranging stock in the back room, or for an elderly employee to slip, fall and injure their back due to the smallest amount of water spilt on the floor.

If you do not comply with Work Health and Safety laws, you can and most likely will be prosecuted.  In the best case scenario, you will be handed a small fine of about $1000 (yes, this is small compared to what the worst case scenario is). In the worst case scenario, your company could be fined up to $2 million, and jailed for up to five years.

It’s all well and good to read this article, become flustered and alarmed, and promise yourself you will be extra cautious in the future. But how will you know how to be compliant, how to differentiate between what is legal and what isn’t?

One option is to spend some time doing your own research. However, this will without a doubt turn into an excruciatingly time consuming and dull exercise.  And how will you know you have covered everything?  Will self-research guarantee that there is no chance of you being fined for a breach?

The answer is no.

The smart option would be to sign up for the ANF’s SmartWHS System. Built specifically for newsagents, this online system sets you short weekly tasks, which only require you to dedicate 15 minutes per task, to ensure your business is compliant with WHS laws. Think about it… spending 15 minutes every Sunday afternoon completing these simple tasks over a cup of coffee could ensure you will never have to cop a fine of $2 million you don’t have, for something you didn’t realise was a breach of safety laws in the first place.

The $150 it costs for the first year of SmartWHS is a small price to pay for peace of mind.

W: whs.anf.net.au

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