The Current Legal Framework
Currently, the Commonwealth and all States and Territories, except for Western Australia and Victoria, have adopted the model WHS Act.
|Commonwealth||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||Comcare|
|New South Wales||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||WorkCover Authority of New South Wales|
|Queensland||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||Queensland Work Health and Safety|
|South Australia||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||SafeWork SA|
|Tasmania||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||Workplace Standards Tasmania|
|Australian Capital Territory||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||WorkSafe ACT|
|Northern Territory||Work Health and Safety Act 2011||NT WorkSafe|
|Victoria||Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004||WorkSafe Victoria|
|Western Australia||Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984||WorkSafe Western Australia|
While the WHS Act sets out the overriding duties and obligations, the WHS Regulations provide the substantive elements that must be adhered to in order to comply with those WHS Act duties and obligations. It also covers specific types of work such as hazardous work, construction work, hazardous chemicals etc.
The model Codes of Practice, which have been developed by Safe Work Australia, are user friendly guides to assist PCBUs in carrying out work safely. These Codes set out methods of best practice to ensure that work is carried out in a safe manner.
Whilst the Codes are not legally enforceable, regulators and the courts will rely on them to determine whether PCBUs have done everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and others.
Any proceedings for a contravention of a WHS Act breach must be brought within 2 years after the contravention first comes to the notice of the regulator.
The maximum penalties for breaches of the WHS Act are set out in the table below.
|Category||Description||Maximum penalty – corporation||Maximum penalty – individual|
|1||Breach of the primary (general) duty involving recklessness and serious harm/death to a person or risk of serious harm/death.||$3,000,000||PCBU and officer –
$600,000 or 5 years imprisonment or both
Worker and other –
$300,000 or 5 years imprisonment or both
|2||Breach of the primary (general) duty involving serious harm/death to a person or risk of serious harm/death without the element of recklessness||$1,500,000||PCBU and officer –
Worker and other –
|3||Breach of the primary (general) duty not involving a high risk of serious harm/death||$500,000||PCBU and officer –
Worker and other –
What is Risk Management?
Risk management is the process of identifying hazards that may give rise to risks to health and safety or financial performance, and subsequently managing the identified risks.
A risk is defined as a possibility chance or likelihood of harm or loss.
A hazard is defined as any situation, substance, activity, event, or an environment that could potentially cause injury or ill health.
There are a multitude of factors that cause work injuries and illness, but set out below is a list of some of the most common workplace hazards:
- work environment related hazards, such as slippery floors
- machinery and equipment related hazards, such as crushing
- heat and fire
- hazardous substances, such as toxic chemicals
- biological waste
- airborne contaminates, such as fumes and vapours
- working at height or over depth
- manual handling, such as lifting
- confined spaces
- over exertion and physical stress
- psychological stress, such as bullying and harassment.
The Risk Management Process
There are four key elements to the risk management process, which are set out below.
- Identify hazards.
Methods of hazard identification may include:
- safety inspections and audits,
- undertaking job safety analyses of similar task evaluation processors,
- incident and near miss reports, and
- hazard surveys etc.
Assess each hazard’s potential to cause harm by conducting a risk assessment. A risk assessment is the process of evaluating both the likelihood that a hazardous event will occur and the severity of any injury, ill health or damage that may result because of the event.
A risk assessment can focus on small segments of tasks or processes, a complete task, or an overall assessment of health and safety in the workplace. The key factors to consider when conducting a risk assessment is the likelihood of the risk occurring, the consequences of the risk, and the adequacy of existing controls (if any).
Control the risk by eliminating the hazard, or if the elimination is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risk using one or more controls. In respect of minimising any risks so far as is reasonably practicable, the hierarchy of control measures should be employed.
This requires substituting the hazard, isolating the hazard or implementing engineering controls. If a risk remains, administrative controls, such as training, should be implemented.
If a risk remains then, the PCBU (person conducting a business or undertaking) should ensure the provision and use of suitable personal protective equipment.
Obviously, a combination of the above controls may be used to minimise risks if a single control is insufficient for the purpose.
Monitor the hazards and review the controls to ensure that they are minimising the risks effectively. This is necessary to ensure that the work environment is maintained to a level in which risks are suitably controlled. Under the WHS Regulations it is necessary to review and revise a control measure where the control measure does not control the risk it was implemented to control, before a change at the workplace that is likely to give rise to a new or a different risk, a new relevant hazard or risk is identified etc.
Successful risk management is influenced by several factors. These include proactive hazard identification such as conducting workplace hazard inspections using checklists and talking to employees. A proactive approach is clearly a better way to manage the identification of hazards in a workplace because it will occur before actual harm results.
Thorough risk assessments are also crucial to effective risk management and are most accurate when a person or team assessing the hazards are well informed. This includes having a good knowledge workplace practice, material, process or situation; a good understanding of the potential injuries or illnesses that could be associated with work; and a good understanding of the risk assessment process. Identifying and implementing effective control measures is also important to this process.
Equally important, however, is that the control measures are regularly monitored and the risks of the job are reassessed to ensure that the control measures have been properly implemented, employees comply with the control measures, the control measures continue to adequately manage the risks, and the control measures have not introduced any other hazards in to your workplace.
The Risk Assessment Process
Risk assessments are most accurate and therefore most useful when a person or team assessing the hazards are well informed.
- having an appropriate knowledge of the workplace practice, material, process or situation
- appropriate knowledge of any potential injuries or illnesses potentially associated with the work, and
- appropriate knowledge of the risk assessment process.
Every business should ensure that their appointed risk assessor is provided with at least the following information to increase the accuracy of the risk assessment process:
- detailed information on the task, situation, process or material that is the subject of the risk assessment, including from the operator’s perspective
- information about the likely effects of exposure to hazards associated with the tasks, situation, process or material
- insight from those who are skilled in using the risk assessment process.
Factors in the Risk Assessment Process
When conducting a risk assessment, the following factors must be considered:
- Likelihood of the risk occurring – this requires consideration of:
- frequency of injury;
- duration of exposure to the hazard; and
- people factors, such as how many people will be exposed to the hazard.
- Consequences of the risk, namely what are the consequences or potential severity of any injury illness or damage.
- Adequacy of existing controls, namely what control measures are already in place and are they sufficient to eliminate or otherwise adequately control the risk.
To conduct a risk assessment, the following steps should be taken:
- Determine what the most likely potential serious injury, illness or damage might be as a result of exposure to the hazards. These consequences could range from first aid injury to medical treatment injury, lost time injury (LTI), permanent disability through to fatality;
- Determine likelihood that this consequence will result. This likelihood could range from almost impossible to not likely to occur to known to have occurred to common.
It is important to remember that the business is not expected to eliminate every risk from their workplace, only to remove or minimise risks if it is reasonably practicable to do so. The key rule is that a business should take immediate steps to control any risk that is likely to result in a serious incident.
If the business is unable to address all their risks immediately, it should prioritise the risks that are likely to result in serious harm and use interim or short-term control measures on those other risks.
Hazard identification is the first step in the risk management process and involves a systematic process of discovering any existing, or potential hazards in the workplace using a variety of techniques.
The identification of hazards in a workplace is the first step in the risk management process. There are many ways in which hazards can be identified, some of which include:
- safety inspection audits
- undertaking job safety analysis or similar task evaluation processors
- employees recognising hazards while performing work
- incident and near miss reports
- conducting pre-start discussion on the work to be done
- monitoring, measurements and texting
- analysis of proposed or modified plant, equipment, material, process or structure
- hazard or risk surveys
- product information
- publicly available data on hazards.
An audit is a great way to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement in WHS in the workplace.
An audit is a documented process for reviewing a WHS system program or workplace practice. It determines whether the system program or practice complies with WHS legislation, established guidelines and best practices.
An audit should:
- identify strengths and weaknesses
- assess compliance with statutory obligations, and
- recommend improvements etc.
An audit may be an independent event or part of a continuous program within the organisation, and should focus on:
- a particular activity
- a particular part of the business. or
- the overall performance of the WHSMS.
It is important to develop guidelines and procedures that describe how internal audits should be conducted and what areas of the organisation they should cover. Further, it is helpful to develop checklists and questionnaires to guide the audit of the particular areas being reviewed.
Important safety issues that a business may consider auditing separately include:
- health and safety planning processes
- health and safety consultative arrangement
- health and safety responsibilities
- organisational structure
- hazard identification
- risk assessment and control
- safety of plant and equipment
- operating procedures
- hazardous substances
- electrical risks
- manual handling procedures
- working at heights
- traffic management
- induction, training and competence
- emergency procedures
- waste management
- reporting of health and safety issues within the business
- completion of workplace checks and compliance reviews
- first aid procedures
- building safety
- ergonomic risks
- incident records, reporting and emergency response
- health and safety measurement and evaluation, and
- health and safety review processes.
An audit can be undertaken by an appropriately trained internal staff member, or an external third party. However, in most cases it will be beneficial to use a third party so that an independent perspective can be provided. If this is the case, the organisation should ensure that the third-party auditor has sufficient expertise for the task, including the necessary experience and references to support that.
Managing Risks of Accident and Injury
Workplaces present many risks of accident and injury to workplace participants. This guideline outlines some of the most common risks to be aware of and how these can be minimised.
Working Environment Risks
Injuries caused by manual handling can occur in a one-off situation involving overload or intense activity, or by ongoing and repetitive wear and tear over time.
Factors can create a risk of injury from manual handling include:
- the weight of the load
- the actions and movements the worker will need to make with the load
- the worker’s posture and position when lifting the load
- the duration and frequency of the manual handling
- the location of loads and the distances moved, and
- the characteristics of the load.
Your organisation can minimise and control the risks connected to manual handling with the following measures:
- provide training and safe manual handling techniques
- re-design the task to eliminate or reduce the risk wherever possible, and
- provide mechanical aids wherever possible. Muscle Injuries
Poor posture and repetitive movements can cause injuries to muscle and other soft tissue. For example, people working at desks for extended periods often adopt postures that lead to discomfort and injury over time. You should incorporate the principles of ergonomic design into your workplace. This may include purchasing office chairs which provide a headrest, adjustable height and adequate lumbar support.
Ensure there is adequate ventilation in all workspaces and that employees are provided with adequate breaks if they are required to work in a hot or cold environment for an excessive period.
Disease and illness
Disease and illness compose a significant risk to the health and safety of workers. It can be separated into 2 basic categories being physical disease and psychological illness.
Your obligation to ensure the health and safety of your workers can include coping with the potential impact of a biological hazard in your workforce.
You should adopt the following precautions to protect your workers from transmitted illnesses:
- have clear policies regarding personal hygiene
- keep work areas clean
- disinfect shared work items between use
- encourage workers to take personal leave if they flu symptoms
- provide flu vaccinations to workers, and
- provide health checks to workers.
Stress can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- poor work design
- lack of communication, and
- conflict in the workplace. Symptoms of stress can include:
- altered appetite; and
- difficulty sleeping.
To minimise stress in your workplace, you should implement the following:
- identify factors that have the potential to cause stress in your workplace and consult with workers to find out the issues they identify as important
- develop and implement policies on reasonable working hours, including overtime
- ensure there is consultation and cooperation with workers, especially during periods of organisational change
- provide scope for flexible working conditions over which workers have some control and assist them to meet their personal obligations
- develop appropriate workplace behaviour policies and procedures and train all workers in them
- develop a positive, supportive and fair workplace, and
- provide training to managers and supervisors in interpersonal skills.
Slips Trips and Falls
Slips, trips and falls are common hazards that account for the majority of minor injuries in the workplace.
The following measures should be employed by your organisation to minimise slips, trips and falls:
- ensure passageways, exits, corridors and isles are kept clear from equipment, rubbish and/or electrical leads
- ensure floor surfaces are even;
- position filing cabinets so that the drawers don’t open into isles or walkways;
- clean floors regularly – make sure that a build-up of cleaning product residue does not create a slip risk;
- use barricades or signs to identify where your slippery areas are;
- ensure that passageways, corridors and stairways are adequately lit; and
- minimise the use of ladders e.g. store items that are regularly accessed at floor level and don’t expect office staff to change light globes.
Comcare has published a document entitled “Guide to Preventing Slips and Trips in Workplace”, which should assist your organisation. A copy of the Guide is available at www.comcare.gov.au .
Injuries from Plant
Unsafe plant poses significant risks to workers and other people in the workplace.
For example, many serious injuries and fatalities have been caused by workers becoming trapped in parts of moving machinery.
7 general duties relating to plant are:
- to carry out hazard identification and risk assessment procedures for all new plant before use
- to introduce appropriate hazard control measures using hierarchy of control, including the development and use of safe operating procedures
- to conduct regular tests, maintenance and inspections to maintain controlled measures and ensure ongoing risk control
- to provide adequate instruction, information and training to employees about the nature of the hazards associated with the plant, the relevant safe operating procedures and control measures, testing, cleaning and maintenance, and the use, fitting, testing and storage of any personal protective equipment to be used;
- to supervise and monitor safe work practices
- to carry out further hazard identification and risk assessment when changes are made to plant, and
- to review risk assessments and hazard control measures regularly or as needed.
You should also be aware that there are specific duties under the WHS Act and Regulations that relate to:
- the management and control plant
- the design, manufacture, importation and supply of plant, and
- the installation and construction or commissioning of plant.
The following will help you conduct a risk assessment on plant:
- examine systems specifications and operation expectations
- examine any safety information provided by the designer, manufacturer or supplier of the plant
- examine the operation of any safety features or warning devices on the plant
- examine how operators interact with the plant or equipment
- review the relevant codes, regulations and technical standards
- consult with current or intended system users or operators
- review studies from similar systems, and
- review historical information and data, such as industry experience, near misses and incident investigation reports.
Recognising hazards caused by plant is the first step towards protecting your workers from the risks that may exist. Accordingly, you should be aware of some of the common types of hazards associated with plant. In terms of mechanical plant, key hazards include:
- entanglement or catching
- drawing in
- stabbing and puncture
- impact, and
- injuries from the movement of machinery parts by compressed air or high-pressure fluid.
In terms of non-mechanical plant, key hazards include:
- slip, trip or fall;
- manual handling and ergonomics;
- fire and explosion;
- excessive noise;
- unsuitable terrain;
- temperature; and
Roles and Responsibilities
Duties of Care
Under the model WHS laws, responsibility is given to various people within an organisation:
A Person Conducting Business or Undertaking (PCBU) has the primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of workers and others at the workplace.
SBAAS is an example of a PCBU.
Primary responsibility is placed on the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), who has a duty of care to ensure workers and others are not exposed to a risk to their health and safety. A primary duty of care is owed by a PCBU when it:
- directs or influences work carried out by a worker;
- engages or causes to engage a worker to carry out work;
- has management or control of a workplace.
If a PCBU has a duty or obligation under the WHS Act, an officer of the PCBU is required to exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBU complies with that duty or obligation. These standards reflect the position and influence of the officer within the company as they govern and make management decisions for the PCBU. Exercising due diligence requires officers to take, at a minimum, the following reasonable steps:
- acquiring and keeping up to date with knowledge and WHS matters;
- gaining an understanding of the PCBU’s business operations and any associated hazards and risks;
- ensuring the PCBU has available for use, and uses, the appropriate resources and processors to eliminate or minimise the risks to health and safety;
- ensuring the PCBU has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information;
- ensuring the PCBU implements processes for complying with any duty under the WHS Act; and
- verifying the provision and use of resources and processes required for compliance.
The CEO and Senior Management Team has a positive duty to ensure that your organisation complies with the WHS legislation by exercising “due diligence”
Officers must be proactive and owe a continuous duty to ensure compliance. Due Diligence means an officer must take reasonable steps to acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work, health and safety matters and ensure the PCBU has, and implements, processes for complying with the PCBU’s obligations.
The standard of care required relates to the position and influence of the officer within the PCBU.
Officer means a director or person who makes or participates in the decision making of the business or who has the capacity to significantly affect the business’ financial standing eg. senior or operational management.
There are duties imposed on Officers and Senior Managers to ensure they exercise due diligence.
Workers (which includes employees, contractors, sub-contractors, employees of contractors and sub-contractors etc.) also have obligations under the WHS Act. This includes taking reasonable care for their own health and safety as well as ensuring that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons affected by the relevant business or undertaking.
A visitor must take reasonable care for their own health and safety at the workplace and take reasonable care that their conduct does not adversely affect the health and safety of others at the workplace.
Visitors must comply, so far as they reasonably are able to, with any reasonable instructions given by the PCBU.
A volunteer cannot be prosecuted for a failure to comply with a health and safety duty, other than in their capacity as a worker or visitor at the workplace.
A volunteer means a person who is acting on a voluntary basis, irrespective of whether the person receives payment for out-of-pocket expenses.
Volunteer Associations are excluded from the definition of a PCBU for the purposes of the Act. These associations are groups of volunteers working together for one or more community purposes where none of the volunteers, whether alone or jointly, employ any person to carry out work for the association.
Unincorporated Associations are excluded from the operation of the Act and cannot commit an offence. Nevertheless, an officer or worker of an unincorporated association can still be liable under the Act, unless they are a volunteer.
Strata Title Body Corporates
Strata Title Body Corporates are excluded from the operation of the Act in relation to premises if common areas are used only for residential purposes.
Notification of Incidents
A PCBU must report immediately to the regulator any workplace incident that involves the death of a person, serious illness or injury, or exposure to a serious risk to a person’s health or safety.
In most cases, a person with control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the site of the incident is not disturbed until the inspector arrives or as otherwise directed by an inspector.
Records of such workplace incidents must be maintained for at least 5 years. Notification must be by telephone or in writing in approved form.
Consultation with other duty holders
A PCBU must consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter.
A PCBU is required to work together with other duty holders in a proactive and reciprocal way so that all risks associated with the activity that they have some involvement in are eliminated or minimised as far as is reasonably practicable.
Relevant factors include:
- who else has influence and control in the work activity;
- how do duty holders each affect work health and safety in relation to that activity;
- where do work activities interact and what impact do they have;
- what information should be shared; and
- what action is needed to be taken to work together with the other duty holders.
Consultation with workers
A PCBU must consult, so far as is reasonably practicable, with workers who carry out work for the business or undertaking and who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by health and safety matters.
“Workers” include employees, apprentices, contractors, sub-contractors and volunteers.
Consultation must be effective, in respect of certain occasions (e.g. when identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work). Consultation with workers who are represented by a health and safety representative, must involve that representative.
- relevant work health and safety information to be shared with workers;
- a reasonable opportunity for workers to express their views;
- workers are given a reasonable opportunity to contribute to the decision-making process relating to the health and safety matter;
- the workers’ views are considered; and
- workers are advised of the outcome of any consultation in a timely manner. Reasonably practicable means consultation to the extent that is reasonable in the circumstances. This will depend on factors such as:
- the size and structure of the business,
- the nature of the work that is carried out,
- the nature of the decision, including the urgency to act;
- the work arrangements such as shift work and/or remote work; and
- the characteristics of workers, including languages spoken and literacy levels.
The more likely that the hazard may cause serious harm, the more extensive your consultation should be. Consultation is only required with those workers directly affected by the health and safety matter.
What are WHS Policies and Procedures?
WHS policies and procedures are an essential part of any WHS management system. They set out the principles, objectives and reasons behind such initiatives, as well as how these initiatives will be carried out in an organisation and by whom.
WHS policies are the documented principles, objectives, obligations and commitments that guide WHS decision making within the business. WHS procedures are the documented processes that guide working practices in the business. This includes specific procedures which set out step by step instructions on how a job or task should be conducted.
Policies and procedures can be combined or kept separate. Some organisations combine their policies and procedures. In these cases, a policy statement should include the specific information about work procedures.
Other organisations separate the two by having an overall WHS policy and other associated policies (e.g. drug and alcohol policy), and a separate range of WHS related procedures.
Importantly, there must be no inconsistency with the written policies and procedures, and how they are actively put into practice by the organisation.
WHS policies and procedures are important because they:
- clearly demonstrate that an organisation is addressing its legal obligations;
- highlight that the organisation is committed to working within a set of WHS principles;
- clarify functions and responsibilities within the organisation;
- help ensure that safe systems of work are devised, adequately recorded, effectively communicated to workers and consistently implemented throughout the company;
- improve management of workers by defining what is, and what is not, acceptable workplace behaviour; and
- save time and reduce workplace injuries by allowing WHS matters to be handled through an existing and consistent procedure.
The policies and procedures that an organisation adopts will depend on the nature and size of the business. Many are common to most businesses (e.g. accident reporting), while others relate more to specific activities of the business (e.g. handling hazardous substances).
The following policies and procedures are generally considered essential for all workplaces:
- WHS policy;
- drug and alcohol policy;
- workplace bullying and harassment policy;
- smoke-free workplace policy;
- safety planning and objectives procedures;
- communication and consultation procedure;
- hazards identification procedure;
- risk assessment procedure;
- risk control procedures;
- performance monitoring and review procedures; and
- safety management procedure.
Effective WHS Policies and Procedures
This guide is designed to assist in the development and implementation of effective WHS Policies and Procedures in the workplace which you can either start from scratch or use our template (Insert link to purchase template) and personalise to your organisation.
The following steps should be undertaken to develop and implement workplace policies and procedures:
Step 1: Consultation. Consult with all relevant stakeholders, including workers, WHS representatives and contractors.
Step 2: Tailor the policy to your organisation. They must respond to the needs of your business and the workers your organisation employs/contracts.
Step 3: Clearly define obligations. Ensure that all policies and procedures have a legitimate, defined and understandable purpose.
Step 4: Implement realistic policies and procedures. Ensure that your organisation has the time, resources and personnel to properly implement the policies and procedures.
Step 5: Make the policy available to everyone. Policies must be communicated to all workers in an effective, user- friendly way.
Step 6: Train your workers. You must provide adequate information, training and supervision to staff, which includes making sure they are familiar with company policies and procedures.
Step 7: Implement policies and procedures consistently. Workers at all levels must know what is expected of them and any failure to comply should be addressed consistently and fairly.
Step 8: Regularly review policies and procedures. They should be reviewed on a regular basis, but also when changes are made in your workplace which affect their application.
Step 9: Enforce your policies and procedures. Effective enforcement is required to achieve and maintain a safe workplace
Record keeping is important for any HR activity; however, the need to document events and keep accurate records is a crucial legal requirement for the successful implementation of a WHS management system in any organisation.
WHS records are crucial to a business because:
- they enable the business to demonstrate that it has implemented a system to comply with its obligations under the WHS Act
- businesses are often obliged by law to keep those records
- they assist in the management and improvement of safety in the organisation
- they enable businesses to report internally and externally on its WHS performance (this is critical given the new officer duty of due diligence), and
- they are critical in relation to any investigation and or prosecution of the organisation that has been initiated by the regulator.
Every aspect of an organisation’s safety management system should be documented.
- accident and injury report, including records of investigations and near misses
- all WHS related policies
- procedures and guidelines, such as safe work procedures
- results of inspections, reviews and audits
- risk assessments
- training and inductions carried out
- repair and maintenance records
- emergency plans
- list of the company’s licences and permits
- register of hazardous substances
- material safety and data sheet for hazardous substances, and
- minutes of WHS committee and board meetings.
The WHS Regulations provide requirements to maintain records for specific periods of time in relation to certain types of work, including confined spaces, electrical work, diving work, construction work, and in relation to hazardous chemicals.
Incident Investigations, Reporting and Recording
Reporting and investigating safety incidents are an important part of managing health and safety in the workplace.
Incident reporting is necessary for your business to:
- better understand and address the risks of hazards in your workplace,
- fulfil your obligation to report specified workplace safety incidents (i.e. notifiable incidents) to the safety regulator, and
- provide your business with the best protection in any subsequent investigation or prosecution by the regulator.
Under the WHS Act, a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to notify the regulator immediately after becoming aware of a notifiable incident arising from the conduct of the business or undertaking. A notifiable incident is defined under section 35 of the WHS Act as:
- the death of a person, or
- a serious injury or illness of a person, or
- a dangerous incident.
The Reporting and Investigation Process
The reporting and investigation process has 3 main parts, being:
- the initial report of the incident
- the investigation of the incident, and
- the preparation of a written report that reflects the outcome of the investigation.
An incident report should include the following information:
- date and time of the incident
- location of the incident
- brief description of the incident, including the circumstances in which it took place
- the names of any people who witnessed the incident
- description of any injury or illness sustained and the identities of all persons injured, and/or
- summary of any first aid provided or other measures taken after the incident occurred.
The following steps should be undertaken to carry out an internal investigation.
Step 1: Gather information about the incident and secure the site. When gathering information, it is essential to inspect the area, take photographs and sketches, take measurements of any plant involved, and note any important features where the incident occurred.
Step 2: Undertake interviews with witnesses. Interviews should be conducted individually with each witness as soon as possible after any incident. This will help ensure the validity of their statements and to prevent witnesses being influenced by the comments of other witnesses.
Step 3: Write the investigation report. This should include the following information:
- a description of the injured persons’ condition or the damage to property
- photographs of the site
- brief notes of the interview with the injured worker and other witnesses
- details of where any plant or equipment involved in the incident is now located (if it has been moved)
- contact details of any witnesses who are not interviewed, and
- brief notes by the investigating worker as to the circumstances in which the incident occurred.
Step 4: Follow up the investigation. You should follow up any investigation or incident report, including reports of near misses. This will ensure that the incident is assessed and that any remedial steps are taken to ensure that it does not occur again.
If a serious incident occurs in your workplace, you should engage a lawyer, who will advise you to undertake a more extensive investigation. Any investigation should be facilitated by the lawyer and any report prepared should be directed to the attention of the lawyer, to have the effect of attaching legal professional privilege to the entire investigation process and to the report that is eventually prepared.
You should also be aware that under health and safety legislation certain external parties in addition to the regulator/inspectors have been granted wide powers to conduct investigations into workplace incidents, namely union officials and health and safety representatives.
An incident report should not include any conclusion about the cause of the incident. It is important that any description of the incident is limited to the known facts.
Under health and safety legislation in all jurisdictions, you have an obligation to undertake an investigation in respect of any injury, illness, incident or fatality that occurs at your workplace.
This is necessary to identify the underlying cause of any injury or illness. With that information, the organisation can take steps to eliminate or minimise any identified risk of injury or illness and thereby comply with its duty of care.
An internal investigation should be carried out by a supervisor, a manager, or a health and safety representative.