Welcome to our monthly Workplace Relations Update for Executives-On-The-Go.

In this update we cover:

  • Harassment claims, the media, and the courts
  • Changes to First Aid requirements in the workplace (and 7 other Codes of Practice Published)
  • Protecting casuals in the workplace
  • The dangers of a sedentary workforce.

Harassment Claims, the media and the Courts

In a recent sexual harassment claim that went before the Federal Court (Dye V Com Sec 2012 FCA 242), the complainant’s deliberate use of the media to try to improve her position (she authorised her lawyers to release a 181 page document to the media relating to her claim), led to the Court awarding an unprecedented $5,850,000 in costs against her.

As a starting position the judge found her allegations were untrue, but further, that her use of a media strategy “seriously undermined” her claim that she would suffer economic loss in the future because the taint of the allegations meant she would have difficulty finding new employment.  In what sounds like an astoundingly common sense decision, the judge noted that the complainant should take responsibility for destroying her own chances of employment by spreading the news herself.

This was also a vivid illustration of how much it can cost to get to the truth of the matter with Com Sec alone racking up over $6 million in costs.  The complainant is appealing the decision.

Changes to Workplace First Aid Requirements

Organisations with “workers” in the harmonised Work Health and Safety jurisdictions (NSW, Qld, the Commonwealth, ACT and NT) finally have some guidance on how to apply the new WHS legislation in relation to First Aid.

In keeping with the “vibe” of the new legislation, the First Aid In the Workplace Code of Practice requires consultation and actual risk assessment to determine:

  • the number of workplace first aiders,
  • what level of training they require,
  • the contents of first aid kits, and
  • where the kits should be located.

There is no longer the prescription of one first aider for 25 people in a low risk workplace, and one to 10 in a high risk workplace, which some jurisdictions used to have under their previous legislation.

There is, however, a clear expectation that each PCBU (Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking) (formerly known as an employer), actively carries out a risk assessment which is then used to determine its first aid strategy.  As always, maintenance of records demonstrating that the risk assessment has been undertaken will be critical to successfully demonstrating compliance.

The Code also acknowledges that a PCBU can arrange for someone outside the organisation to provide first aid, as long as that fits with the risk assessment and follows consultation. This could, for example, include using a medical centre next door, or where there is a small organisation in the same premises with others, they could reach an agreement, amongst themselves, as to provision of first aid.

Other Model WHS Codes now published

In addition to the First Aid Code, the following Codes were also passed by the Council of Ministers and now apply in the WHS “harmonised” jurisdictions:

The following four Codes are almost ready to be published and are currently in the final stages of editing and design:

  • Excavation work
  • Spray painting and powder coating
  • Abrasive blasting
  • Welding processes.

The Preventing and Managing Fatigue in the Workplace and Preventing and Responding to Workplace Bullyingdraft model Codes of Practice are currently being revised based on public comment. They are expected to be finalised in the second half of 2012.

Note that compliance with the Codes is not mandatory, but if you fail to abide by them and an incident occurs, that will be used as evidence of your failure to take all reasonably practicable steps.

Protecting Casuals in the Workplace

A recent report by Safe Work Australia found that casual staff are 50% more likely to be injured than permanent employees.

While there can be a variety of reasons why this could be the case, even a cursory survey of employers would indicate that casuals tend to receive far less WHS training than permanents, and yet the employer is equally responsible for them while they are engaged in work.

For employers who have students or occasional casuals in entry level jobs, it is of particular importance to ensure, not only that they receive adequate WHS training, but that they are adequately supervised to ensure that they are doing their job safely. Identifying the type of training and the level of supervision required, would benefit from a risk assessment and consultation with other workers.  And don’t forget to ensure that you document everything properly!

The other significant findings in the report include:

  • Males recorded a 19% fall in the number of injuries incurred at work since 2005–06 to 2009-10, but the number of injuries for females increased by 11% over the same period
  • Shift workers and part-time workers also had higher rates of injury than non-shift full-time workers
  • Industries with high levels of casual and part-time work, such as accommodation and food services, had higher than average injury rates
  • Workers aged 15–24 recorded substantially higher injury rates than other age groups
  • The most common cause of injury across all age groups was sprain/strain.

Sedentary Work is a Health Hazard

For those of you who thought that sitting in an office was a pretty safe workplace, think again (then stand up). In a recent study conducted in the US, the researchers posited that life expectancy could be increased by up to 2 years by reducing the amount of seated time.

Of course, the concept of sitting too much – at work, then at home watching television – is not terribly new, and the study has been criticised for ignoring, what seems to be, a lot of factors that accompany sitting down (like eating and drinking while watching the Olympics, for example). However, structuring work to include opportunities to walk, stretches for body and eyes, and getting out for a walk at lunchtime, all contribute to greater productivity and healthier and less injury–prone employees.

How CompliSpace can help

 All of the recent cases highlight the need for employers to have:

  • legally compliant policies which are regularly reviewed for currency and relevance
  • employee inductions, training, and testing  to implement and embed those policies
  • regular communication with employees to remind them of the policies
  • a means of obtaining assurance that the policies are actually being followed.

CompliSpace’s comprehensive range of cost effective human resources policies, procedures, training and testing modules, ensure that managers and staff know what is expected of them and have key tools and information at their fingertips at all times. This enables a business to meet their workplace relations obligations while building a positive corporate culture, capturing knowledge and saving time.  For more information, contact us on the details below:

Contact Details

P: +61 (2) 9299 6105 (Sydney) / +61 (8) 9288 1826 (Perth)

E:  contactus@complispace.com.au

W: www.complispace.com.au

This blog is a guide to keep readers updated with the latest information. It is not intended as legal advice or as advice that should be relied on by readers. The information contained in this blog may have been updated since its posting, or it may not apply in all circumstances. If you require specific or legal advice, please contact us on (02) 9299 6105 and we will be happy to assist.