Will Industrial Manslaughter Laws apply to Covid-19 Safety

Workplace safety Will Industrial Manslaughter Laws apply to Covid-19 Safety

SafeWork NSW has demonstrated that it is not making any exceptions for businesses failing to be Covid-19 Safe and have since penalised and fined those workplaces that have been non-compliant. 

However, in the last week we have learnt that Ken Phillips, the head of Self-Employed Australian and Independent Contractors Australia, wrote to WorkSafe Victoria on September 9, 2020 demanding prosecution by those in the Victorian government, that are held responsible over the COVID19-related infections that have resulted in 795 death in Victoria.  This has significance as this may involve the industrial manslaughter law under the occupational health and safety legislation, which became a criminal offence from 1 July 2020, carrying severe maximum penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for individuals and fines of $16.5 million for companies.

The question is:  Will this be the start of the Australian states and territories applying the Industrial manslaughter laws to workplaces held responsible for covid-19 death and negligence.  If so what will the impact be for workplaces.  With regards to covid-19, insurers have had debates on covering claims those caught up with the virus, while FairWork has outlined covid-19 paid sick leave and iCare the workers compensation information for workplaces

workplace safety Will Industrial Manslaughter Laws apply to Covid-19 Safety

Why Evaluate, Review and take Action

In the light of manslaughter charges for covid-19, workplace should be mindful and consider the importance of an evaluation, a review and action to control any identified risk and hazards; verses the penalties of negligence and non-compliance with the WHS laws.

In addressing safety issues that have been identified, be mindful that Covid-19 could be showing its presence in the form of second-wave of the virus, or community contact with an infected individual as it’s being experienced within Australia or globally; therefore projecting control measures to address them.  A second -wave could mean a sudden and immediate order to #stayathome or isolation or quarantine for prolonged unknown durations that could be extended over a period of time as in Victoria. 

It’s crucial that workplaces pre-empt safety measures to address possible circumstances by developing and having control measures in place.  Since the pandemic has warranted drastic measures to be taken overnight, this experience has educated us enough to take the opportunity to be proactive by considering the following:

Working from Home …

Does anyone work from home or will work from home in future, whether long term or short term?  
 Working from home comes with risk, and this includes all workers whether a white collar or blue-collar worker.  For example; If an individual has a workstation or work area in order to perform their tasks/job a risk assessment must be carried out and any hazards or risk that are identified should be controlled and minimised. Workstations and Work areas must be ergonomically set up and free from hazards and risk.  Work procedures and policies should to be revised and developed to address these changes.

Work Health and Safety Training …

 When was the last time your workers received WHS Training?

WHS Refresher training is a way to reinforce safety and is important in demonstrating the workplace due diligence and its commitment to safety compliance.  Many workplaces have changed their staffing arrangements, others have shift workers or scheduled days for workers.  This makes it difficult to arrange WHS training.  The option of online WHS Training can be the best way to manage this challenge.

workplace safety working from home

Updated and Revised Workplace Policies and Procedures

 Which policies and procedures have you identified that need to be updated or revised?
The WHS Refresher Training is an opportunity to include the roll-out of the updated and revised workplace policies and procedures that not only address the covid-19 risks, but also take into account the changes and amendments to the WHS Laws. 

Records Management and Covid-19 Tracking Options 

Is it a challenge to maintain records and keep track ofthose attending work or visiting your premises?
The QR code seems to be a best practice for most businesses and workplaces to manage, record and identify clients and visitors to their premises; as well as service technicians, suppliers and any other deliveries.  The QR code is beneficial as it can be a good tool for accurately tracing exact days and times.  Whilst the QR code system is a good tool it requires 5 to 10 minutes to register each individual and this can result in long queues for Clientele and visitors on their first visit to the premises. In the long rung this is well worth the time and energy. There are many free apps including one from NSW Government.

work place safety mental health

Managing Mental Health is important …

Do you have a communicative process in place for your workers and is it effective?
 Mental Health has been highlighted as a concerned due to isolation for those working from home.  For Safety Month Safe Work Australia has release a fact sheetPreventing psychological injury at work during COVID-19.  Whilst mental health is complex, however, there are a few things that workplaces can do to keep connected with their workers that are working remotely.  The lack of peer contacted and connection appears to be the issue faced in isolation.  Connecting to workers through regular communication such as phone calls, digital meetings, email and schedules face-to-face meetings can help to address this issue.  Other workplaces have initiatives such as, buddy systems, weekly outdoor activities like beach volley ball and walking meetings with work teams. Possible Items that need to be updated or revised followed by action …
Item that may be on your to-do-list could include:

  • WHS Policies and Procedures
  • Risk Management
  • Ergonomics
  • Mental Health and Support
  • Change Management
  • Work Pacing and Organisation

These are some of the common issues that have been highlighted by some workplaces.  As every business is unique, it is advisable to investigate further to identify all possible risks or hazards present in your workplace.  When updating and revising policies and procedures, it is advisable to seek help from experts as these documents should support your case and demonstrate your due diligence if legal matters arise.  Not the contrary.     

faith from foccale
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