Preparing your board for WHS changes
WA’s new work, health and safety (WHS) legislation will make board members more accountable than they have ever been for the health and safety of their workers.
Importantly, board members will not be able insure against WHS penalties under the new act – making it crucial for them to understand their obligations.
We outline how those at board level can respond to the new laws.
Under the WHS Act 2020, board members will have a personal responsibility for the health, safety and welfare of their workers.
Section 272 of the Act states that insurance policies are “of no effect” when it comes to protecting against the legal repercussions of health and safety breaches. Entering into an insurance policy that seeks to provide indemnity for WHS breaches will also be offence under the new Act.
CCIWA WHS Practioner Matt Butterworth explains that all officers in a business, which include board members, “must take every reasonable precaution to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers and others who could be put at risk from work carried out by the PCBU”.
As explained in previous articles, the PCBU refers to the person conducting a business or undertaking and is a new wider definition of employers.
Understanding the risks
As a first step, board members must know and understand their WHS obligations.
Butterworth explains that the officers responsible for health and safety should familiarise themselves with the laws that are relevant to their workplace and how they are applied via workplace policies and procedures.
“They must also understand the hazards and the risks of the business and what similar businesses are facing when it comes to hazards and risks,” he says.
This can be achieved through board briefings on the legislation, which can be conducted by external parties such as CCIWA.
Ensure appropriate resources
Board members most also ensure that the organisation hs sufficient resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks. This includes making sure that the organisation has appropriate processes for:
- receiving and considering information regarding risk and implements practices; and
- complying with its duties.
Given board members are not part of the day-to-day management of a business, they must ensure resources are allocated to monitor the health and safety practices within a workplace.
Butterworth says while CEOS and members of an executive team are not expected to walk around with a clipboard asking about safety protocols, they are expected to know what is happening
“They need to know about the hazards and incidents of your business, they must know about the corrective actions,” he says.
“Part of their due diligence obligations is checking back that those corrective actions have actually been working, so it’s really important they are given that information.”
When it comes to workplace health and safety, the main question is whether a workplace is doing what it says it is doing.