Employers should not underestimate the importance of investing in workplace health and safety, including training for employees as well as ensuring that new hires or those promoted are qualified to perform the tasks of their new role.
Case Study 1
A tragic example illustrating the significance of safety and risk assessment training was recently reported by the NSW Deputy State Coroner in her inquest findings about the death of a patron visiting a Vivid Sydney lightshow at Darling Harbour in 2014.
The inquest found that the event management company responsible for the Darling Harbour precinct had tasked the risk assessment of the area to an unqualified individual. As a result, the risk assessment failed to identify that the Cockle Bay vantage point in Darling Harbour had open water access and that patrons could potentially fall into the water.
Tragically that is what happened and an intoxicated man drowned.
The Deputy State Coroner found that the event management company had failed to provide adequate training to its staff and recommended that it urgently consider engaging a risk management consultant to review its practices and procedures. The Deputy State Coroner also recommended that the event management company provide formal training to their directors, officers and employees on risk assessments and emergency management to be delivered by a qualified risk management consultant or a specialised registered training organisation.
Case Study 2
In a separate case, a labour hire firm was joined to a lawsuit because they allowed an employee to act in a role and perform safety tasks that the employee was not fit to perform.
The labour hire firm supplied the employee to work as a site supervisor at a construction site operated by a joint venture. On one particular day, the site supervisor guided a truck driver with a load of concrete parapets into an unloading zone where the parapets would be lifted from the truck by a mobile crane. While the truck driver was preparing the parapets for unloading and stowing some chains in the truck, the mobile crane crew commenced unloading and dislodged a three ton parapet which fell on the truck driver, resulting in devastating injuries.
The truck driver commenced proceedings against eight parties alleged to have contributed to his injuries, including the joint venture that operated the construction site. In its defence, the joint venture argued that it was not responsible for the truck driver’s injuries, in part because the firm that supplied the site supervisor who lead the truck driver to the unloading zone did not provide skilled labour.
The joint venture argued that they had contracted with the labour hire firm for the supply of site supervisors who were competent and able to oversee and enforce safety procedures. The joint venture alleged that the labour hire firm did not provide skilled labour as it was obligated to do, but instead provided a site supervisor who was not fit to perform the required duties.
On that basis the truck driver sought and received permission from the Court to join the labour hire firm to his proceedings as a ninth defendant.
These cases demonstrate that hiring qualified employees and/or providing quality training to existing employees is essential, especially when the employees will have special health and safety responsibilities.
Good safety practice requires investment from employers, but they will save on harm to their employees, penalties, legal costs and damages in the future if they can avoid workplace health and safety incidents in the long term.
Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.
02 9256 7500 | firstname.lastname@example.org
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