Employees - Informed and Involved

Employer’s Duty to Keep Staff Informed
The employer must inform all staff so they understand their own responsibility, as well as what is going on.

All staff must be told:

  • When there is an emergency.
  • About any existing hazards or hazards that may be created in the workplace.
  • How to deal with any hazards that crop up.
  • About safety clothing and equipment use and where they are kept.

The employer must also ensure that the staff member’s health and safety representatives have access to information about health and safety systems and issues in the workplace, so they can carry out their jobs effectively.

What do Employees do if Things are Unsafe?
If any employees are concerned about the safety of their workplace they should contact their company’s health and safety committee or health and safety officer and let them know their concerns. The committee members or officers involved must raise the concerns with the employer as soon as possible.

If the employee does not receive satisfactory attention from their employer they can complain to OSH. OSH will send an inspector to investigate and if the matter is serious they can call an immediate halt to work or issue a notice to the employer requiring them to make immediate improvements. They can also prosecute employers where necessary.

Should Employees Stop Work?
If an employee feels that to continue would endanger their health or safety, they can stop. They should then try and resolve the problem with their employer as soon as possible. If the matter cannot be resolved they can refuse to do work as long as they believe they have reasonable grounds and will potentially be harmed. They cannot refuse to work unless the risk is significant and serious.

What if Employees become Ill or Injured?
If an employee receives an injury or becomes ill through the employer not fulfilling his/her obligations in the workplace they can bring action against the company. They can also make a claim through the Accident Compensation. The final thing they can do is lay an official complaint with OSH who has the power to prosecute the employer.

What about Independent Contractors?
If you are an independent contractor you may still be covered under the Health & Safety & Employment Act if before you started work you came to an agreement with the employer or the person in charge of the facility, that you would be covered. In that situation the obligations owed to employees under the Act will also apply to the contractor.

Offences and Penalties
It is an offence under the health and safety laws for an employer to:

  • Do something they are not allowed to do under the health and safety regulations.
  • Fail to do something they are supposed to do under the health and safety regulations.

The condition is that they must know that whatever they did or failed to do would have caused harm to their staff. They can be prosecuted and imprisoned for up to two years, or fined up to $500,000, or both. The penalty for failing to comply with any of the health and safety regulations in other cases is a fine of up to $250,000.

An employer cannot take out an insurance policy that ensures them against any fines or infringement fees imposed under these laws. Any such policy would be legally unenforceable.

What Enforcement will be Taken?
Enforcement of the Act is usually taken by OSH. OSH won’t prosecute unless an injury or damage has resulted from a breach of the Act or where warnings have been issued by OSH and you have ignored those warnings. An employee can also bring a private prosecution against the employer where they breach the Act.

Steps Employers should Take
There are a number of practical steps an employer should take in order to comply with the Act and thus escape prosecution.

These include:

  • Fully review any existing health and safety procedures, equipment, and staff training requirements.
  • Employ a health and safety officer at each workplace to work after this area.
  • Maintain an accident register.
  • Adopt and publicise the health and safety policy of their company with all employees.
  • Set up a health and safety committee and have a representative from both management and staff involved.
  • Make sure that they are fully aware of the codes of practises and the guidelines issued by OSH.