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Hosting work experience students – duty of care

By CCIWA Editor 

Historically, young people in the workplace pose a greater risk than those who have been exposed to the workplace for longer periods of time.

Reasons for the increased risk include inexperience within the working environment, lack of attention to procedural details, lower levels of concentration and a desire to ‘prove oneself’, for example by trying to carry or lift heavy loads.

The Western Australia Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (the Act) requires employers to ensure that the workplace is safe and free of hazards to employees and others that enter the workplace.

The host company has a duty under the Act and common law to ensure visitor safety; this would include the safety of people on work experience.

Assuming there is no employment relationship with work experience students (see section on insurance obligations), it is highly advisable that as a host company you adopt the same duty of care for the person entering your workplace as you would for your own employees. These would include the following.

Induction

As a host company, you cannot assume the student has been briefed by their school on workplace safety, particularly at a level specific to your industry.

It is highly recommended that the student undergoes your company induction before commencing the work experience.

Supervision

Young people, particularly those who have not been in the workplace before, should be under the constant supervision of someone who is competent to deal with hazards as they occur in the workplace. Do not leave a work experience person to complete work unsupervised, particularly in an industry that has high risk hazards, such as health care, fabrication and construction. Do not assume that if you show someone how to do something once that they will then be able to complete that task alone.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

It is normally the responsibility of the employer to provide effective and efficient personal protective equipment to employees. It is suggested that if the student is coming to your workplace for work experience, that it would be your responsibility to ensure they have and use the appropriate PPE such as (eye protection and steel cap boots) and that the student has been adequately trained in its use.

Contact person

It is important that the student has someone that they can ask questions of during their time at the workplace.

Insurance obligations

Engaging in formal or informal work experience placements can expose an employer to the risk of claims for workplace injuries.

Employers must have adequate insurance coverage for workers’ compensation or can face a penalty for breaching the Workers’ Compensation & Injury Management Act 1981.

The specific arrangements between the employer and the work experience person must be examined to determine whether there is an “employment relationship”. If there is any remuneration being paid or provided to the student in exchange for their efforts during the placement then this could make the relationship one which would be subject to the Act. In that case the student could potentially claim to be a “worker” and have access to workers’ compensation under the employer’s policy.

To determine whether the specific arrangement proposed for work experience requires workers’ compensation coverage, details of the arrangement should be discussed with an insurance broker or insurer direct. Written confirmation from the broker or insurer as to whether coverage is required should be kept with the work experience documentation and actioned as appropriate.

If a work experience person does not receive any remuneration as payment for coming in to perform work with the employer, and in the circumstances of the particular arrangement no workers’ compensation coverage is considered necessary, other insurance may cover any risk to the employer.

This can include public liability coverage associated with the business building, business operations or other personal injury coverage for visitors to the workplace.

There may also be insurance required in relation to professional indemnity issues should the student expose the business to a claim from a client, or other types of insurance associated with the nature of the business or the type of work the student will be doing.

You should discuss all of your contractual arrangements with your insurance broker or insurer to obtain advice regarding the types of policies which will cover any identified risks.

Work experience should provide an enjoyable insight into the working environment where the student should be provided with adequate support and encouragement.

Work experience students - obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

The definition of vocational placement is relevant to the meanings of employee (as defined in clause 15) and national system employee (as defined in clause 13).

“Vocational placement” means a placement that is:

  • undertaken with an employer for which a person is not entitled to be paid any remuneration; and
  • undertaken as a requirement of an education or training course; and
  • authorised under a law or an administrative arrangement of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory.

The definition of employee in the Fair Work Act 2009 excludes persons on a vocational placement. National System Employers therefore cannot host a work experience student unless they are undertaking a vocational placement as per the definition and are receiving remuneration for their services.

Tips for employers hosting a work experience student

  • Undertake a comprehensive induction program communicating to students:
      1. code of conduct
      2. duty of care requirements
      3. company policies (bullying, harassment, equal employment opportunity, drug and alcohol)
      4. reporting arrangements
      5. dispute resolution procedures
      6. occupational safety and health requirements
  • Ensure students do not attempt tasks beyond their levels of training or skill
  • Maintain confidentiality of all information concerning the student.

If you have any questions regarding your duty of care and legislative requirements, you should contact the Employee Relations Advice Centre on  (08) 9365 7660.

Historically, young people in the workplace pose a greater risk than those who have been exposed to the workplace for longer periods of time.

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