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What Are An Employer’s WHS Obligations?

Published July 11, 2022 (last updated February 9, 2023) - Head of Health and Safety

Businesses have health and safety obligations that they are expected to keep up with to ensure a safe work environment. Safe systems of work are not necessarily set in stone as working conditions are constantly changing. But what are an employer’s WHS obligations?

Case Study

Recently, an aged care facility in Victoria has been charged under the State Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 with nine workplace health and safety breaches that preceded a COVID-19 outbreak and 45 deaths.

WorkSafe Victoria alleged that in July 2020, the aged care provider was notified that a worker at one of its facilities had tested positive to COVID-19 and the employer failed to:

  • require workers to wear personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • train workers how to safely put on and take off PPE
  • verify that staff were competent in using PPE
  • inform staff when PPE should be used or
  • supervise the use of PPE.

WorkSafe Victoria alleged that at about this time, a COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the facility, resulting in 94 staff members and 94 residents testing positive to the virus. They also alleged that 45 residents subsequently died from COVID-related complications.

The actual charges relate to failure, so far as was reasonably practicable, to:

  • provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for its employees
  • provide workers with necessary safety instructions and supervision
  • ensure persons other than its employees were not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from its undertaking or
  • ensure its workplace, including entering and leaving the premises were safe and without risks to health.

WorkSafe explained that its investigation into the matter was complex and involved reviewing thousands of pages of documents, including guidelines that were published in March 2020.

This case indicates that it is important for employers to remember that:

  • an employer’s health and safety obligations extend beyond the employees
  • the workplace’s safe system of work, including health and safety policies, procedures and records must be reviewed and updated regularly
  • they must be aware of emerging risks at the workplace and taking steps to manage risks as soon as possible

Employsure has worked with over 30,000 businesses across Australia in employment relations and WHS. Call our 24/7 Advice line today if you have any questions.

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