The Power of Safety Inspectors – what else you need to know

WH&S Update 14/18

As mentioned in the last safety update – safety inspectors have very broad powers. Are you and your staff aware of what you need to do or know if an inspector is at your business investigating a workplace incident? Here are some frequently asked questions for all businesses and employees to know:

Q: What are the powers of safety inspectors when investigating workplace incidents?

A: Inspectors have the right to:

  • enter and inspect any workplace
  • take photographs and video recordings
  • collect documents and other evidence
  • issue on-the-spot fines, improvement or prohibition notices and non-disturbance notices.

Key tips:

  • Remind workers of the inspectors right listed above.
  • Instruct workers to provide all reasonable assistance to an inspector.
  • Gather all relevant documents relating to the incident i.e. procedures and training records to help the investigation.

Remember: Those of you whom attended the session delivered by Jonathan Ivanisevic from Hopgood Ganim, titled ‘What to do when ‘it’ hits the fan’, will also remember his additional advice. He advised to establish legal professional privilege (gather relevant documents, statements and engage external lawyers) and undertake an investigation into the cause and circumstances of the incident for the purposes of providing advice into the incident and for use in any subsequent litigation.

Note: You should also ensure you have a process in place for a representative from your business to accompany the inspector to the incident site.

Q: Do your workers have rights to protect themselves or the business by refusing to answer questions?

A: In Queensland an inspector is able to compel answers to questions. A person must answer the questions unless they have a reasonable excuse. A reasonable excuse does not include the fact that the answer may incriminate them. An inspector can also obtain information that is provided voluntarily.

Any answer give under compulsion cannot be used against the person in any criminal proceedings, but answers given voluntary can be used in evidence against the person given the answer.

Make sure your workers understand this distinction and clarify with the safety inspector if they are exercising their powers to compel an answer to be given by the worker.

Q: How you and your workers need to respond if they question them after a notifiable incident?

A: A notifiable incident is when an incident needs to be reported to the safety regulator, which is any incident resulting in serious injury or death as well as incidents resulting from a serious illness.

If a notifiable incident occurs at your workplace, you need to take all reasonable steps to minimise or eliminate the hazards and immediately notify WH&SQ. Make sure you communicate the following process with your workers, when dealing with a workplace incident.

Key tips:

Take care of the injured worker’s needs, make them comfortable and remove any risks. Ensure the site remains untouched until an inspector arrives – other than for the reasons listed above.

Secure the worksite and provide appropriate care for other workers.

Notify senior management – as part of the incident response process all incidents must be immediately reported to management.

Notify WH&SQ in the required timeframe – in most cases by phone as soon as you become aware of the incident – if requested you may also have to provide a written report within 48 hours of the initial notification.

(Source: Health and Safety Bulletin, 1 July 2014, by Michael Selinger)


For more information about emergency response training sessions or running a training session internally, please contact Lisa Dwyer on 3915 4213 or [email protected]

Control Fire Hazards in your Workplace

WH&S Update 14/18

There is a risk of fire in every workplace – fire hazards can arise in a variety of environments or while undertaking certain activities. The risk is higher when there are flammable chemicals or combustible materials in use. That means any business in the Markets could be at risk.

That’s why it is important to have emergency evacuation and fire safety procedures in the workplace. In addition, it is important to ensure all employees are provided with the relevant training within the first two weeks of employment and then annually thereafter.

Four simple steps to reduce the risk of fire in your workplace

1.    Identify any fire hazards in the workplace including the presence of:

a. ignition sources (heaters, lighting, electrical equipment)
b. fuel (packaging, plastics, rubber, petrol, chemicals).

2.    Assess the risks posed by the hazards you have identified – this helps determine what needs urgent attention.

3.    Put measures in place to control the risks, for example:

a. eliminate work processes that could generate an explosive atmosphere
b. service and clean all machinery as recommended by the manufacturers
c. switch off electricity points when the business is unattended
d. remove waste materials that could act as fuels
e. store and dispose of flammable substances correctly.

4.    Monitor the hazards you identified and review the controls that have been put in place – if it isn’t minimising the risk – go back to step

(Source: Health and Safety Bulletin, Joanna Weekes, 31 July 2014)


For more information about emergency response training sessions or running a training session internally, please contact Lisa Dwyer on 3915 4213 or [email protected]

Swearing in the workplace part one: is it grounds for dismissal?

IR Update 14/14

There have been a number of unfair dismissal cases before the Fair Work Commission that have considered the issue of swearing in the workplace and whether such conduct justifies termination of employment.

So when is it not okay to swear in the workplace? The best practice would be never but the following case may shed some light on the subject, even though it has yet to be clearly defined.

Can you swear at a customer?

In a recent case, a car salesman who had shown a car to a customer was informed by the customer that he would place an order ‘next month’. Two months later, the salesman saw the customer in the service area getting a car. The customer informed the salesman that he had purchased it from a rival dealer. The salesman became aggressive and responded to the customer using abusive language.

The customer was employed by a fleet management company and the dealership was an accredited preferred supplier – which was a very lucrative deal for the dealership. A formal complaint was made by the fleet company and after an investigation the employee was instantly dismissed.

The Fair Work Commission upheld the dismissal as a key part of the employee’s job was to maintain good customer relations and his behavior did not meet this goal. The dealership was also at risk of losing significant business as a result and the altercation took place in a public area in front of other customers. This also had the potential to further damage their reputation.

(Source: Linked In, ‘Are bad words bad deeds? by Abraham Ash, 19 February 19 2014)

Managing ill, sick or injured employees – part one

IR Update 14/14

Managing ill or sick employees or those on workcover can be challenging and I am often asked what to do in this situation. Not knowing what to do can lead to managing the process the wrong way or dismissing the employee and this can result in legal action and affect the reputation of the business.

Over the next few issues, I will address your key questions and provide information on how to manage various situations and the possible consequences if not managed within the legislative requirements.

The key to managing long-term illness

When an employee is diagnosed with a long term illness, it is important for businesses to manage the situation with sensitivity and respect. The challenge for businesses is that no-one knows it is going to be a long term illness or how long that term might extend. The reality is that every situation is unique and the majority of businesses do a wonderful job taking care of their employees where serious or life threatening illnesses arise. So how can you make sure you are one of those businesses?

Keep the communication lines open. Tension usually arises when there is lack of proper information exchanged – both parties need to keep in touch.

Employees need to know what leave they have available, when it runs out and what can be done to assist i.e. salary continuance program.

Employers also need to know the progress and receive updated medical certificates to determine if there is a partial capacity to return to work.

There is no simple answer and businesses need to be aware that WH&S and industrial relations legislation is complex. The Fair Work Act protects employees from dismissal when temporarily absent due to illness or injury unless their absence extends for more than three months. However even though this is legislation, the lines are blurred if it can be demonstrated that their illness or injury does not have an adverse impact on their ability to perform their regular duties. Businesses also must take into consideration any advice received from the treating practitioner regarding their ability to return to work eventually. The best advice is to always seek advice and ensure you always are communicating with your employee.

(Source: Human Capital, 27 February 2014)