BlandsLaw - Blog posts from OH&S
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Directors and managers have onerous obligations and personal liability under occupational health and safety laws. Different provisions apply across the country however, regardless of where the workplace activities are being undertaken, the obligations and duties on directors and managers are particularly onerous.

In all jurisdictions except for New South Wales and Queensland, the primary obligation requires an employer to take all reasonable and/or practicable steps to ensure or provide a safe working environment or to protect the health and safety at work of employees.

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With a few busy months ahead for many businesses holding work social functions and Christmas parties, it is a good time to consider the issues around drugs and alcohol in the workplace. From a legal risk management perspective, best business practice around these issues involves the implementation of workplace policies that cover not only drugs and alcohol, but also performance management, occupational health and safety, discrimination and termination. It may be useful at this time of year to remind employees what policies are in place and when these apply.

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The harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws was first raised by the Whitlam Government in 1974. Over the last 25 years there have been ongoing efforts to nationalise OH&sS state based requirements and obligations.

The national OH&S scheme is expected to come into operation on 1 January 2012 as a result of each state, territory and the Commonwealth committing to the harmonisation process. Seven out of nine jurisdictions have now approved the model work health and safety regulations and codes of practice and have committed to meeting the COAG deadline of 1 January 2012.   The two remaining states, Victoria and Western Australia are yet to commit.

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We are continually advising employers to have thorough and compliant employment contracts in place with their employees. In addition we advise frequently on the need to have policies in place that deal with many aspects of daily working life including bullying, harassment and, one of the more important ones…occupational health and safety. We are often asked by employers “Why do I need these? Can’t people just use their common sense?” Our reply, all of the time is…”NO, because common sense isn’t common enough!”

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Previously, we have discussed the notion of whether a company’s policies and procedures may be legally binding. In that article, we highlighted a recent decision in the Federal Court which outlined the importance of the content of company policy documents provided to employees and the need to ensure compliance with the processes and standards set out in such policy documents.

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