A prosecution is currently underway in the ACT that is the first under the new Work Health & Safety Act to prosecute an officer a long way down in ‘the pecking order’ – a project manager – rather than the expected officers of company directors and board members.

In 2012 the WHS Act & Regulation 2011 came into effect. The legislation made changes to the roles that can be held accountable for safety in the workplace.

The Project Manager has been charged with a category 2 offence under section 32 of the WHS Act as the matter relates to an alleged failure to comply with a health and safety duty where that failure exposed a worker to a risk of death, serious injury or illness. Category 2 offences carry a potential maximum penalty of $300,000 for individual officers

This prosecution will set a legal precedent regarding who is held accountable under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

An officer is a broad term that applies to people who can make decisions that significantly affect a business or undertaking, and the ramifications for project managers being held accountable for their employers’ WHS activities are huge.

I recommend:

  • Identifying all the officers in your business
  • Implementing a practicable due diligence system to protect officers, relevant to the officer’s capacity, position and experience
  • Having an active and well recorded due diligence system – that will help you to demonstrate a due diligence defence and avoid a possible criminal conviction and fine
  • Acquiring and keeping up to date with knowledge of WHS matters
  • Gaining an understanding of operations and the associated hazards and risks
  • Ensuring there are the appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety
  • Ensuring there are appropriate processes for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information.