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New work health and safety (WHS) laws came into effect in some Australian jurisdictions on 1 January 2012 and in other jurisdictions on 1 January 2013.
Each Australian State and Territory, and the Commonwealth, is responsible for implementing and enforcing their own WHS laws.
WHS laws impose duties on a range of different stakeholders including persons who conduct businesses or undertakings, persons who manage or control workplaces, officers, workers and others.
Download the WHS general checklist
The WHS laws apply to all organisations and persons who conduct a business or undertaking in Australia, including medical practices. The WHS laws impose duties on identified duty holders, who include the following people:
What this means for youIf you own or operate a medical practice you may be a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) and have duties under WHS laws.
Duty holders must consult, co-operate and co-ordinate their activities with all other persons who have duties in relation to the same matter.
There are core principles that apply to duty holders as follows:
While the term Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking "PCBU" is not defined, examples of PCBUs who are individuals include:
Examples of PCBUs that are organisations include:
What this means for you
The primary duty of care is imposed on a PCBU to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and other persons, and to ensure that health and safety risks are eliminated or minimised. For medical practices, the duty arises in three main ways:
The PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the PCBU, along with any workers whose activities in carrying out work are influenced or directed by the person, while the workers are at work in the medical practice. Ensuring against bullying and harassment forms part of the duty that a PCBU owes to a worker.
The PCBU must also ensure that the health and safety of other persons is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the medical practice. The term "other persons" includes visitors and patients.
The PCBU must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that work health and safety risks are eliminated or minimised by undertaking risk management. This includes identifying hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks and reviewing control measures by, for example:
The term "reasonably practicable" in relation to a duty to ensure health and safety means that which is, or was at the relevant time, reasonably able to be done in the circumstances, taking into account and weighing up all relevant matters.
Only when these matters have been assessed can the cost of eliminating or minimising the risk be taken into account, including whether or not the cost is overly disproportionate to the risk.
Relevant matters could include considerations such as:
PCBUs owe duties to ensure the health and safety of "workers". The concept of "worker" is defined in the WHS laws and includes:
(* Note: In medical practices, contractor organisations are also PCBUs in their own right and owe duties to their workers [and others], wherever work is performed).
Workers also have duties under the WHS laws. While at work a worker must:
An "officer" owes duties under the WHS laws. An officer includes:
If a medical practice has a duty or obligation under the WHS laws, an "officer" of the medical practice must exercise due diligence to ensure that the medical practice complies with its duties or obligations. The duty to exercise due diligence is a proactive and continuous duty. Under the WHS laws, due diligence includes taking reasonable steps to:
The WHS laws require duty holders, so far as is reasonably practicable, to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate with each other, and for the medical practice to consult with workers when there is a health and safety matter that will directly affect those workers.
The qualification, "so far as is reasonably practicable", means that the level of consultation required will be dependent upon the circumstances in each case, including the urgency of the WHS issue and the seriousness of the risk.
Consultation involves taking the views of workers into account before making a decision – it does not require consensus or agreement, but does entitle workers to contribute to decisions made.
The consultation duty requires that:
Consultation must happen when a medical practice is:
In summary, consultation is about the medical practice sharing information and providing an opportunity for workers to respond and contribute to WHS issues that affect them in their work at the medical practice.
Consultation can be undertaken directly with workers, or via committee structures, or with WHS representatives.
Particular work health and safety incidents must be notified to the appropriate State regulator (e.g. WorkCover NSW, WorkSafe Victoria etc). The types of incidents that are notifiable include incidents that involve the death of a worker, other serious injury or illnesses to workers or dangerous incidents. Each State/Territory WHS law contains a list of prescribed incidents that should be notified to a regulator. The reporting procedures in each jurisdiction may be different.
In all cases, there is a duty to preserve the scene of an incident until a regulator attends or until any other time as directed by a regulator.
Download the Incident Report Template
Compliance with WHS laws is mandatory and there are penalties associated with a failure to comply with them. Regulators have a range of options available in relation to enforcement including issuing an Improvement Notice to a medical practice requiring that certain actions be undertaken. Regulators may also commence prosecutions for WHS laws for more serious matters. Prosecutions under WHS laws are criminal matters and attract significant financial penalties and, in some cases for individuals, a term of imprisonment.
Work health and safety is about ensuring the wellbeing of workers (including contractors), patients and others in the medical practice. Regular review of your practice will assist in making your practice a healthy place in which to work.
It is important that you assess the WHS risks that might arise in your medical practice and develop policies, procedures and worker training that address these risks so that you can ensure a safe working environment.
WHS policies and procedures are important as they set clear standards and expectations for how WHS issues are to be managed. They also clarify which individuals hold certain obligations for managing WHS issues.
For medical practices, consideration should be given to developing appropriate policies and procedures which relate to the risks which exist in each medical practice.
Typical policies and procedures that could be developed for a medical practice include:
procedures that deal with:
Download the WHS Policy template
When developing policies and procedures, medical practices should consult with workers and involve them in formulating policies and procedures that relate to specific practice risks.
Training workers in the policies and procedures that apply at the medical practice is also important, as this allows workers to understand what is expected of them and how they can contribute to a safe work environment.
Worker training should take place on a regular basis and should focus on: