Employer and individual liability for workplace safety

LAST week I spoke about an employer’s duty to manage risks to the mental health of its workers.

Of course, an employer must also manage risks to their workers’ physical safety.

If they fail to comply with their obligations, the employer is at risk of being prosecuted by Workplace Health and Safety (“WHS”). This may include the individual with responsibility for the employer entity.

If you look at the statistics published by Safe Work Australia in 2016-2017 in relation to WHS prosecutions and outcome, there appears to be trend of increased financial penalty and individual liability.

This is evidenced by the fact that, despite a 24 per cent decrease in the number of legal proceedings resulting in a conviction, order or agreement, there has been an 8 per cent increase in the value of fines awarded by Australian Courts. In addition to the above, over the past six months there have been two instances of Australian Courts sentencing an individual to a term of imprisonment following a fatality in their workplace.

The first was a 72-year-old self-employed scrap metal business owner in Victoria who was sentenced to six months in prison. The second, a director of a Brisbane roofing company who was sentenced to one year in prison.

Employers who think they won’t be prosecuted or are sheltered from personal liability should think again. Is safety a primary focus in your business? It should be.

Until next week – Keep it Legal!

Katie Caldow

*The legal information in this article is of a general nature only and not intended to be legal advice to rely upon.

Walker PenderEmployer and individual liability for workplace safety