What do health and safety inspectors have the power to do in your workplace?
By Joanna Weekes
After the Health & Safety Bulletin a couple of weeks ago which discussed union rights of entry, we had a few questions come in asking about inspectors and what they can do in your workplace – so I thought I’d make it today’s topic to take you all through what health and safety inspectors can do when they enter your workplace.
Health and safety duties are enforced through a system of inspection and investigation. Inspectors appointed by the safety regulator in your jurisdiction carry out these inspections. Investigations and prosecutions usually arise following workplace incidents (or near miss incidents).
Do not wait for a near miss or accident to occur to do something about health and safety in your workplace. Be proactive at all times!
You should have a procedure for dealing with health and safety incidents in your workplace which includes a nominated person to deal with an inspector who enters the premises.
What can inspectors do once they enter your workplace?
Inspectors have extensive powers to ensure you comply with your duties under health and safety legislation. You are obliged to grant an inspector access to your workplace, and you may be charged with an offence if you obstruct their entry.
If you fail to provide reasonable help to an inspector and do not have a reasonable excuse for doing so, you can be fined up to $10,000, and your business can be fined up to $50,000 under the WHS Act. In Victoria, individuals can be fined up to $8,460 and a company can be fined up to $42,300. In WA, fines are up to $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for companies.
Inspectors are permitted to:
- inspect workplaces to detect hazards and risks to health and safety;
- provide advice to duty-holders on how to improve workplace health and safety;
- investigate worker complaints and undertake investigations on their own initiative;
- seize defective or hazardous workplaces, plant or equipment, or substances;
- enter, inspect and examine a workplace during working hours, when there is an immediate risk, or to investigate an incident (this may be at night if this is the time work is carried out at your workplace);
- bring any equipment or materials into your workplace that may be required;
- inspect any documents from your workplace;
- take photographs and collect documents, samples and other evidence from your workplace;
- improvement notices;
- non-disturbance notices;
- prohibition notices; and
- ask for assistance, and conduct interviews with management and workers.
- take reasonable steps to notify you of their entry; and
- produce their identity cards for inspection unless it would defeat the purpose of entry or cause unreasonable delay to do so.
If an inspector does not show you their identity card, you should ask to see it.
And remember, the mere existence of a risk to health and safety may be sufficient for the safety regulator to prosecute or issue a fine or improvement notice. In other words, an incident doesn’t need to have occurred to warrant action from the safety regulator to eliminate (or at least reduce) the risk.
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