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Businesses must heed new Work Health and Safety laws

Frontline managers could be prosecuted for Work Health and Safety (WHS) breaches under new harmonised laws coming into effect on 1 January 2012, an employment lawyer warns.

The harmonisation of WHS laws will create broader meanings of ‘officers’ responsible for safety in the workplace and harsher penalties if they fail to comply.

Kemp Strang’s employment law partner Lisa Berton said with the new WHS laws starting in just a few weeks, employers have to identify an organisation’s officers and make compliance with the new regime a priority. “The broader definition of ‘officer’ has the potential to capture more people who are responsible for workplace safety.”

Kemp Strang advised employers to identify officers before providing training to all people that can be held accountable under the new legislation.

The laws will create new definitions of due diligence, defining it as taking reasonable steps to have up-to-date knowledge of WHS matters, understand hazards and risks of the business and eliminate or minimise them, as well as having appropriate systems in place to receive information and allow a timely response to any incidents.

Berton said officers can’t afford to be complacent as not just one but all due diligence requirements must be met to avoid prosecution.

“Officers must be able to show they’re being proactive and are engaged in all these areas. The penalties for a breach of an individual officer’s duty can be a fine of up to $600,000 and/or five years imprisonment,” said Berton.

Berton offered some tips on keeping a business’ officers on track. She said employers must assess the company’s officers and identify all responsibilities before implementing a process to help them comply with all new regulations.

Berton urged businesses to create a reporting process by which officers can check off their duties through a system of assessment and verification as well as to ensure WHS training is conducted regularly, not just for officers but for all employees.

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Maree Sorbello

Maree Sorbello

Maree is a first year student at Sydney's University of Technology, and is one of Dynamic Business' star interns.

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