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HR highlight: responsible for safety?

Posted by Elisha Radwanowski, ACAPMA on 18 February 2013

How should businesses work safety into position descriptions? What are the areas of concern and focus?

A reasonable question

ACAPMAlliance recently received this question: “With the harmonisation of the WHS Act we have had lots of communication about ensuring our PDs cover responsibility of workplace health & safety as defined in the Act. Do you have a standard clause that would cover this?”

Serious about safety

The inclusion of safety responsibilities in position descriptions is an area that ACAPMAlliance receives many questions on. On this the main thing to note is that you do not want to be blindly writing Work Health and Safety (WHS) responsibility into any and all job descriptions. In the past position descriptions have included notes like ‘responsible for safe operations’, ‘responsible for achieving zero incidents’ and detailed KPIs that are tied to safety.  This “and safety” approach was a quite popular means of the business showing it was ‘serious about safety’.

Accidental ‘Officer’?

However, under the new WHS laws that are in place now, or being adopted shortly across the country, it is important to note that if you are holding an employee responsible for safety outcomes, then they could be deemed to be ‘officers’ for the purposes of safety. This means that they would be personally responsible under the law for exercising Due Diligence, including verifying that all safety systems are followed. 

This opens the position holders to personal punishments under the law, as well as exposing the business to the requirement to ensure that ‘officers’ are competent, trained and effective.

To avoid capturing managers and staff unintentionally into the definition of ‘officer’, caution and restraint is required when wording safety into position descriptions of general staff.

Safety for general staff

It is worth considering that:

  • if it is a requirement under the WHS laws that the worker is expected to actively engage to keep themselves and others safe while at work; and
  • if it is a requirement of the business policies that the worker is expected to participate in workplace safety consultation as required, attend and adopt training on safety matters into daily work processes as required, comply with workplace safety instructions/safe operating procedures etc, report incidents and near misses promptly and according to the businesses procedures, and support the businesses safety culture

…then the recommendation is to just say that.

As a requirement under the WHS laws, the position holder is expected to actively engage to keep themselves and others safe while at work.

As a requirement of the business policies, the position holder is expected to: participate in workplace safety consultation as required, attend and adopt training on safety matters into daily work processes as required, comply with workplace safety instructions/safe operating procedures etc, report incidents and near misses promptly and according to the businesses procedures, and support the businesses safety culture

Safety for ‘Officers’

When examining the position description for a WHS Manager, HR Manager, Financial Controller, General Manager and other very senior managers there is a different focus. These positions, by dint of their ability to impact safety outcomes in the workplace, are often deemed ‘officers’ under the law. For these positions there is a requirement:

  • to acquire and keep up-to-date WHS  knowledge;
  • to gain an understanding of the hazards and risks associated with business operations;
  • to ensure the business or undertaking has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks;
  • to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information;
  • to ensure the business or undertaking has, and implements, processes for complying with any duty or obligation of the PCBU under the Act; and
  • to verify the provision and use of the above resources and processes.

As these positions have a much greater level of responsibility the wording needs to be more considered and customised for the business. For example if the business has instituted annual ‘officer’ training as part of its business level due diligence program then the KPI would be ‘actively engage in, and adopt annual officer training’.

Here to help

ACAPMA members are reminded that the ACAPMAlliance Workplace Relations Professionals are available to assist with position descriptions and managing safety in your business. For more information just call 1300 160 270.

HR Highlights are things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. They are provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation by calling 1300 160 270 and speaking to one of the ACAPMA Workplace Relations Professionals – its free for members. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $550 per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts. Click here to learn more about ACAPMA membership.

Elisha Radwanowski
BCom (HRM & IR)
Workplace Services

Author: Elisha Radwanowski, ACAPMA
Tags: Due dilligence WHS Act workplace health and safety work health and safety safety

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As an independent freehold service station we are pleased that you are giving us a platform on a higher level to express our concerns; thanks again.

Marilyn Schott
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