While we have been focussed on COVID-19 and its health and safety aspects, a court has delivered a timely reminder about the day to day safety risks that employees and employers face that cause major injuries with lasting effects for the business and staff.
A South Australian beachside café (and one of its directors) has recently been charged by SafeWork SA over an incident where a young casual worker was seriously burned in August 2018.
H&T Cook Enterprises Pty Ltd and Tiarne Cook pleaded guilty to charges for breaches of sections 19 and 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) for failing to ensure the health and safety of workers whilst at work.
In August 2018, a worker at Royal Copenhagen Café (Brighton) was injured when pouring methylated spirits into an ethanol burner causing a flashback flame and setting the worker’s face and hair on fire. The injured worker was hospitalised with burns to their face, neck and hands.
SafeWork SA’s investigation found that the H&T Cook Enterprises Pty Ltd failed to:
- ensure that workers refuelled the ethanol burner in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
- provide all workers who refuelled the ethanol burner with written instructions directing the workers to only refuel the ethanol burner in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
- adequately train all workers to do so in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
- supervise all workers to ensure that they only refuelled the ethanol burner in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
Tiarne Cook, a Director of H&T Cook Enterprises Pty Ltd, pleaded guilty to a failure to exercise due diligence to ensure that the company complied with its statutory duty.
It is a timely reminder that it is the responsibility of those running a business to ensure workers receive adequate training to do their job safely and that there are adequate systems in place to protect workers.
This is an example of an unprepared small business owner not taking their work health and safety responsibilities seriously and a worker paying the price for that failure.
The regulator insisted that owning a business comes with accountability and responsibility to provide safe systems of work, training and guidance. This is even more relevant where the workforce is young, casual and inexperienced.
Many small businesses employ young, casual and inexperienced workers, many of which are working for the first time. It is critical that business owners take extra precautions to ensure these groups of workers are safe, as many have never experienced the work environment before. Business owners have a duty to provide extra care to this vulnerable group.
The accommodation and food services industry has the youngest age demographic of all industries with 44 per cent of workers aged under 25 years old.
Casual work in hospitality is many people’s first job. Young workers are at risk as they often have no, to limited work experience and knowledge to know when they are placed in unsafe and dangerous situations. There is a higher onus on business owners to ensure all young workers are provided with adequate training and supervision.
What Are the Responsibilities of the Employer?
Among the most important responsibilities is the primary duty of care. Employers must observe all legal requirements for giving employees safe and healthy work. It is also a requirement to investigate work hazard reports and take corrective actions.
Who is responsible for the primary duty of care? The WHS responsibilities apply to all employers and businesses, which includes any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).
All businesses and PCBUs have legal obligations. Besides the primary duty of care, businesses must take appropriate steps to manage risks and hazards. They also need to review their health and safety programs.
The WHS responsibilities of employers include a wide range of requirements to help ensure a safe work site. Some of the core responsibilities include:
- Providing necessary health and safety instruction, supervision & training
- Ensuring all staff understands their roles and responsibilities
- Providing necessary protective gear and equipment
- Consulting with staff regarding decisions that impact workplace safety
- Maintaining a register of all workplace injuries
- Offering return to work programs for injured workers
Employers also need to use warning signs, labels, or colour codes to warn employees of possible hazards. When an accident occurs, the employer must report hospitalisations and maintain records of the injuries.
These are not just guidelines; the Government requires businesses to offer a safe environment. For example, the WHS Act recommends that employers avoid allowing employees to work from heights unless risks are mitigated. If working on shifts is required, specific risk assessment and mitigation steps need to be completed.
Sentencing for the South Australian company and director will be given at a later date.
Make sure that staff are trained up to a safe standard, that it is recorded and that all staff are remined via tool-box talks of the need to be safe. All employers want their employees to go home in tact – it has moral and financial consequences for everyone.