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Are you meeting your safety duty of care?

July 01, 2019

A recent decision in Queensland serves as a reminder of the need to ensure a safe worksite for all of your workers. A young apprentice, only 19 years of age and just 3 months on the job, suffered serious physical injuries and long term mental health issues as a result of a lack of training and supervision in the use of a circular saw.

The apprentice was using the circular saw ripping lengths of pine, which he started to do without clamping the timbers in place. While cutting the second piece, he reached down to stop it falling and the saw blade grabbed and jumped on the timber and ran across his hand, lacerating the palm, nerves and bones.

He underwent 10 operations and developed post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The apprentices employer with charged with breaching both their primary duty of care and failing to comply with health and safety duties under the state’s WHS Act.

The employer failed to provide the apprentice with:

  • little more than a verbal safety induction when he commenced employment,
  • instructions on how to use the saw,
  • directions to clamp or secure the timbers when cutting them, and
  • training to identify the relevant hazards and risks.

The magistrate handed down a substantial fine to the apprentices employer.

Apprentices and young workers vulnerable to risk of injury

Apprentices and young workers are more vulnerable to the risk of injury as they may lack the skills and knowledge to understand the risks involved in the tasks they are doing and not recognise when something is unsafe. If you employ a young worker you have legal obligations to make sure the work they do is carried out safely.

Apprentices and young workers need special attention.  Particularly, make sure that they are:

  • given information, instruction and training to be able to do their work safely, including training in the use of any power tools, plant, and personal protective equipment,
  • given an induction that includes the hazards and risks on site,
  • properly supervised, and
  • encouraged to let you know of any safety concerns.

Following the guidance of the health and safety regulator is crucial

You also need to find and follow available guidance relevant to your task or hazard about on how to ensure a safe workplace and compliance with workplace health and safety laws.  Health and safety information is readily available for most hazards and work activities in the residential building industry.  This includes codes of practice and other safety information. The websites of workplace health and safety regulators are listed below. 

Courts may regard codes of practice and other health and safety guidance as evidence of what is known about a hazard, or the ways to control risks to health and safety, and rely on it to determine what is 'reasonably practicable' in the circumstances to which the guide or code relates, in the event that there is an injury or incident in the workplace.

You should also seek and follow the information from the manufacturer or supplier for the safe use of the specific tool, equipment, material or product. 

The risk management process

For any work task it is important that you follow a risk management process:

1. Identify the hazards associated with a task - is there any potential for a worker to be injured in the performance of the task, including any use of tools, plant or machinery?

2. Assess the risk- what harm could each hazard cause if you don’t control the hazards identified?  How serious could the harm be and the likelihood of it happening? Consider your workers’ age and experience as a risk factor.

3. Implement control measures- can the hazard be eliminated completely? If not, how can we make the task less risky? Is there a safer way to do it. You need to implement the most effective means to control the risk that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances, applying the hierarchy of risk control measures specified in the health and safety laws for that particular risk.

4. Review control measures – are the way we control these risks effective? Do they work to ensure safety? Could we implement better controls?

Workplace Health and Safety Regulator Websites

New South Wales
Northern Territory
South Australia
Western Australia

If you are uncertain about how to achieve good safety outcomes you can also get assistance from HIA.  Contact HIA Safety Services or your local Workplace Advisor on 1800 650 620.