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Powers of inspectors to investigate an incident – 

how you must prepare

Thursday, 4th December, 2014, by Joanna Weekes
In today's Health & Safety Bulletin:
  • Preparing for a visit from the safety inspector
  • What are improvement and prohibition notices?
Dear Reader,
You might recall that last Thursday’s Health & Safety Bulletin discussed what a notifiable incident is and the immediate steps you must take in response if one occurs in your workplace.
One important thing to remember is that in the event of a notifiable incident, a health and safety inspector is likely to visit your workplace to investigate, typically within a couple of hours of the incident being reported.
In today’s Health and Safety Bulletin, Michael Selinger will discuss the powers that inspectors have, including the power to issue you with an improvement or prohibition notice if your work practices are found to be unsafe.
Read on to discover how you should prepare if a safety inspector plans to visit your worksite.
Enjoy your weekend!
Joanna Weekes
Joanna Weekes
Editor
Health & Safety Bulletin
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Preparing for a visit from the safety inspector

By Michael Selinger
Editor-in-Chief, Health & Safety Handbook

Inspectors have broad powers
If a safety inspector attends your workplace to investigate an incident, ensure that you and your workers understand what their powers are when they undertake their inspection.
You should inform workers that once the inspector is onsite and has displayed their badge, they have more powers than a police officer, including the power to:
  • enter the workplace;
  • take photographs;
  • inspect documents; and
  • question anyone at the site about the incident.
How to prepare for a visit from the safety inspector
In preparation for the visit, you need to gather all relevant documents, such as work method statements relating to the incident, in order to assist the inspector. It is important that you also instruct workers to provide all reasonable assistance to the inspector. Otherwise they may be found to be obstructive, and therefore guilty of an offence.
In all jurisdictions other than South Australia and Victoria, an inspector can compel someone to answer their questions, even if the answer incriminates them. There is no right to silence.
It is important to ensure that you have a process in place for accompanying the inspector to the incident site, and ensure that the site has not been modified or changed. It’s a good idea to take photographs of the incident site as soon as practicable, particularly if there is a concern that the site may be tampered with by other parties.
There are hefty penalties for tampering with the worksite after a serious incident has occurred and before a safety inspector arrives. The only excuse for moving anything is in order to safely secure the site from further hazards.
Also be prepared for an inspector to issue you with an improvement notice, a prohibition notice or both. These notices must be complied with or significant penalties can be imposed.
What are improvement and prohibition notices?
An improvement notice will require your business to take certain positive steps within a particular timeframe in order to remedy any ongoing risks in the workplace.
A prohibition notice prevents the business from undertaking any further work until the specified steps have been taken by your business. The inspector may then interview witnesses and senior managers of your business and issue further notices to collect documents that relate to the work being performed at the time of the incident. It is important to obtain legal advice in relation to these notices before responding.
Not all serious incidents will result in a prosecution of your business. In fact, under WHS laws, there is an option for the safety regulator to accept an enforceable undertaking instead of commencing a prosecution. This is a detailed agreement between the safety regulator and your business that you will take certain steps, including:
  • taking corrective actions in relation to the incident; and
  • implementing safety initiatives for your business, the industry and the community.
If that proposal is accepted by the safety regulator, then a prosecution will not be commenced against you or your business.
To best protect yourself, you should review your current system for responding to a serious incident. Make sure that if an incident does occur, your workers and managers:
  • are prepared;
  • understand their rights and obligations; and
  • have received appropriate training.
Warm regards,
a
Michael Selinger 
Editor-in-Chief
Health & Safety Handbook


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