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Officers duties: Directors, Business Owners and Senior Managers - Who should do what?

Health and safety laws have made officers of the corporation individually liable for breaches of the law.  Under the law in Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, officers must exercise due diligence to ensure their business complies with the act.  The definition of an officer is included in corporations law and ordinarily includes directors, business owners and senior managers.
Helpfully, the model health and safety law explains what due diligence means.  This includes:

  • to acquire and keep up‑to‑date knowledge of work health and safety matters;
  • to gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the business or undertaking of the person conducting the business or undertaking and generally of the hazards and risks associated with those operations;
  • to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking;
  • to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information;
  • to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking has, and implements, processes for complying with any duty or obligation of the person conducting the business or undertaking under this Act;
  • to verify the provision and use of the resources and processes referred to in paragraphs (c) to (e).

While the health and safety laws in Victoria and Western Australia are different, they contain similar obligations for officers.
Importantly, if you hold or think you hold the position of an officer in a business you have an obligation to ask questions and satisfy yourself that everything that should be done is being done.
What does this mean in practice on a worksite like a forestry operation where there are several business with multiple officers with overlapping and co-existing duties?
This means that before any operation commences the organisations involved in planning the operation must pro-actively identify the hazards and risks associated with the operation. Once these hazards are identified, they must ensure that the organisation or business with the greatest influence over the source of the hazard takes the necessary steps to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety.
As an example for a harvesting operation, the following actions are recommended for managing site related hazards by the Forest Manager, Contractor and Sub-contractor.

Ultimately working in a dynamic environment the following is recommended to avoid confusion:

  • Careful planning
    • Agree about who does what before operation commences.
    • Specify who is in control of the site during operations.
  • Use clear documentation to communicate with affected workers and site visitors, including:
    • Operational plans
    • Warning signs
    • Site inductions
  • Continuous consultation
  • The person who creates or controls the hazard should choose the controls, i.e. if it is your machine you make sure that it does not injure someone.
  • Supervision and audit by all to manage foreseeable hazards.