Defining workplace health and safety: what it is and how it affects you

In Australia, workplace health and safety is of paramount importance to both employers and employees. If your workplace breaches these regulations and codes of practice, you may be eligible for compensation. 

 

What do we mean by health and safety in the workplace?

Workplace health and safety refers to the rights and obligations of both employers and employees in the workplace. In Victoria, the primary piece of legislation is the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act), which sets out OHS regulations and obligations for both employers and employees.

The employer’s obligations are to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, to provide relevant information and to monitor and ensure the health of employees and of workplace conditions.

The employee’s obligation is to cooperate with the OHS rules and safe work practices in the workplace.

 

What are the types of hazards in the workplace?

There are six categories of major workplace hazards. These are:

·   Biological (eg. Blood, mould, bacteria, viruses)

·   Chemical (eg. Fumes, pesticides)

·   Physical (eg. Radiation, temperature extremes, loud noise)

·   Safety (eg. Electrical hazards, anything that can cause you to trip/fall)

·   Ergonomic (eg. Improperly adjusted chairs, frequent lifting, poor posture)

·   Psychosocial (eg. Workplace violence, sexual harassment)

All of these can have adverse effects on workers, both physical and psychological. Employers have a duty to ensure that the work environment is free of these hazards.

 

Why are health and safety important in the workplace?

Workplace health and safety promotes the wellbeing of employers, employees, visitors and customers. It falls under the duty of care for employers to protect their employees and has benefits for both the company and the worker.

 

Who is responsible for the health and safety in the workplace?

Both employers and employees have responsibilities regarding workplace health and safety.

Employers are required to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risks to health, as far as is reasonably practicable. They are required to follow up on any risks to workplace health, such as replacing faulty equipment. 

Health and safety representatives (HSR) are elected workers who represent fellow workers on health and safety matters under OHS legislation.

Employees are required to abide by workplace health and safety rules and report any discrepancies if they are experienced.

 

What should I do if I identify a workplace hazard?

Talk to the OHS rep or HSR on site, who has powers under the OHS Act to put provisional improvement notices on plans, equipment and/or unsafe environments until the employer comes to an agreement, or WorkSafe is engaged.

You can also call WorkSafe or your union for advice.

 

Do workplace health and safety regulations differ between states and territories?

Prior to 2012, workplace health and safety laws varied between Australian states and territories. In 2012, all state and territory governments agreed to develop model laws to promote health and safety in the workplace.

Safe Work Australia is the national body responsible for OHS policy and maintaining laws for each state and territory. For more information, visit their website.

 

What is workers’ compensation?

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides benefits to workers who suffer an injury or develop a medical condition in the course of, or as a result of, their employment.

These injuries might include suffering an injury at work on a specific day or developing a medical condition over a period of time due to the nature of the work performed.

Workers’ compensation is often referred to as WorkCover.

Workers’ compensation claims are managed by a number of insurance companies on behalf of the Victorian WorkCover Authority, also often referred to as WorkSafe.

 

How do I get compensation for a work injury?

Compensation for a work injury is accessed by lodging a Workers Injury Claim Form. An injured worker is required to lodge the claim form with their employer as soon as practicable after they have suffered their injury.

Once the employer has received the form, they must forward it on to their workers’ compensation insurer within 10 days. Within 28 days, the insurer must provide a written response to the injured worker, either accepting or rejecting their claim.

 

What are the types of compensation that an injured worker is entitled to?

Under workers’ compensation, a worker can be entitled to the following compensation:

  • Weekly payments if they are unfit to perform their pre-injury duties
  • Reimbursement for their reasonable medical expenses
  • Lump-sum compensation if their injury is permanent. This can include a lump sum for permanent impairment and compensation for their pain and suffering.

 

When is it appropriate to engage a lawyer for a workplace health and safety issue?

At Gordon Legal, our workplace lawyers will be engaged if you have been injured at work and have made a WorkCover claim. We can also help if your claim has been rejected, or if it has been accepted and your payments have been cut off.

If you have a permanent injury, you may be able to bring a claim for more damages, or a common-law claim, under which you can sue your employer for negligence.

If you have not yet made a claim and are proactively dealing with an issue, it is best to contact your union or WorkSafe prior to engaging a lawyer.

 

How can I find out more about occupational health and safety regulations?

Visit WorkSafe or your state or territory’s official OHS website to find out more about workplace health and safety regulations and laws where you live.

 

What to do if this information applies to you

At Gordon Legal, we understand that workplace health and safety is a personal issue.

For personalised and individual advice, we offer consultations to discuss your matter.

Please call Gordon Legal on (03) 9603 3000 or our Geelong office on (03) 5225 1600 to speak with a member of our team.

Given the current environment, we are providing consultations over the phone or via video conferencing platforms.

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