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In Victoria, employees have specific duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic); the ‘OHS Act’. The legislation outlines the legal requirements, safety practices and compliance standards for maintaining a safer work environment. Overall, the legislation provides the basis for any organisation that operates within Victoria.
If you want to do your part to reduce injuries and accidents, you should understand employer and employee responsibilities in the workplace.
Why Should Employees Know Their Rights and Responsibilities?
The OHS Act provides regulations and codes of practice to help increase the safety of staff in all industries. Employees and employers have their own sets of rights and responsibilities under this act.
Employees should understand their OHS responsibilities to help contribute to a safer working environment. When staff follow regulations and standards, they are less likely to injure themselves or others.
Whilst Victoria voted against implementing the harmonised Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth), the OHS Act outlines the rights and obligations that employees have under the Act. Understanding the rights of an employee helps you verify that your employer is following legislated safety requirements. In Australia, employers must meet and maintain a high standard of health and safety.
Under Part 3, Division 2 of the OHS Act, employers have a duty of care to protect their employees from physical and workplace hazards. Even a small business or sole proprietor needs to follow these requirements:
- Reducing exposure to hazards (s 35(1)(a));
- Providing staff with information about hazards (s 35(1)(d)(iv));
- Providing staff with training (s 35(1)(d)(iv));
- Providing personal protective equipment and clothing (OHS Regulations 2007 (VIC) r 163(4)); and
- Communicating with HSR’s (s 69(1)(a)).
The OHS Act also provides you with specific rights, including the right to a safe and healthy workplace. This includes the right to protection from workplace bullying.
You have the right to representation by a health and safety representative (HSR) and the establishment of a health and safety committee. You also have the right to be notified about investigations into any workplace hazard.
If you detect a hazard or dangerous situation, you also have the right to refuse to continue work. Any health and safety issues should also be reported to the HSR.
What are the OHS Responsibilities of Employees?
The primary employee responsibilities in the workplace include working safely and not jeopardising the health and safety of others. Workers need to follow OHS requirements to help maintain a safer environment.
So what are the duties of employees under the legislation? According to section 25 of the OHS Act 2004, employee responsibilities include:
- Take reasonable steps to protect their own safety and health (s 25(1)(a));
- Take reasonable steps to prevent their actions from affecting the safety of others (s 25(1)(b));
- Cooperate with steps taken by the employer for OHS compliance (s 25(1)(c)); and
- Not recklessly endanger the safety of themselves or others (s 25(2)).
Basically, you must take reasonable care for the safety of yourself and others whilst also following any steps that your employer takes to comply with OHS requirements.
Section 32 of the OHS Act also specifies the penalties for recklessly endangering others in the workplace. The law outlines a new offence that applies to workers, employers, suppliers, and even the public.
A person who recklessly engages in conduct that puts others in danger of serious illness or injury is guilty of the offence. Under section 32, the potential penalty includes a fine and up to five years imprisonment.
How Can Employees Contribute to Workplace Safety?
Employees contribute to workplace safety in multiple ways. Workers help keep the workplace safe by following safety standards, completing OHS training and reporting any hazardous conditions.
The general steps for meeting the WHS responsibilities of employees include:
- Working safely;
- Following instructions;
- Asking questions;
Using personal protective equipment; and
- Reporting injuries and unsafe situations.
Your primary OHS duty of care is to work safely. When workers detect unsafe conditions, they should report the issue to their supervisors or health and safety representatives.
Dependant on the industry, employees may need to complete OHS training courses to comply with health and safety laws. These courses offer the necessary knowledge and skills for identifying hazards and reducing risks. Through training, you learn the worker’s responsibilities for health and safety in your industry.
In some cases, the training is mandatory. For example, before working in the construction industry, you need to complete white card training. It covers the most common hazards on a construction site and general safety tips.
Additional courses are available for addressing specific hazards such as:
- Confined spaces;
- Managing traffic.
- Manual handling; and
- Working at heights.
Employers are responsible for ensuring that staff complete the necessary training. It is then your responsibility to follow the codes of practice and standards discussed during training to ensure a safe workplace is upheld and maintained.
Understanding Your Duties and Rights Keeps You Safe
In the end, the main reason why health and safety Acts and Regulations exist is to keep you safe. You and your employer have duties and rights that help ensure compliance with the best practices and standards for your industry.
Employers are responsible for providing you with a safe and healthy environment to complete your tasks. You are responsible for following the steps needed to identify and assess hazards and dangers. With these steps, everyone becomes safer.
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