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Builders Work Health and Safety Compliance in Australia

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Mark Acantilado | November 23, 2015 | Comments Off on Builders Work Health and Safety Compliance in Australia

Performing construction work can perhaps be described as “living dangerously.” After all, construction sites often have traumatic injuries, fatalities and day-to-day risks. This is why the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 classifies the construction industry as a priority industry for work health and safety improvements.   Also, as early as 2011, the Australian Commonwealth government has enacted the Work Health and Safety Act, which was then followed by each state and territory – with the aim of having “harmonised” laws and policies for work health and safety.

With all these rules and regulations, businesses often get confused on what their roles are with regard to work health and safety.

First off, understand that everyone in construction – from the worker up to the business owner – all must contribute to keeping the construction site safe. You are responsible for your own safety and at the same time make sure that you don’t cause a danger to the safety of others.

Secondly, you need to understand that “bigger” responsibilities rest on what WHS laws refer to us as a “principal contractor.”

Who is a principal contractor?

You can be a sole trader or a company and still be a principal contractor.   If you say “yes” to both these questions, then you are a principal contractor:

  1. Is your construction project worth $250,000 or more?
  2. Do you have overall management and control of the workplace?

What are the responsibilities of a principal contractor?

As a principal contractor, your responsibilities under WHS include:

  1. putting up work health and safety signs around the construction site, including a sign that identifies you as the principal contractor;
  2. collecting copies of SWMS, insurance policies, and white cards of all subcontractors, workers and other persons that work in your construction site;
  3. conducting pre-commencement and continuing risk assessments;
  4. preparing a work health and safety management plan, including work health and safety policies;
  5. consult with other stakeholders in the construction site through regular toolbox talks and work health and safety meetings;
  6. conducting work health and safety induction for all persons who want to enter your construction site, either as a worker or a visitor; and
  7. collecting and safely keeping work health and safety documents.

What if I am not a principal contractor?

Even if you are not a principal contractor, you are considered a “person conducting a business or undertaking” or PCBU under WHS laws. And as a PCBU, your responsibilities include:

  1. consulting with other stakeholders in the construction site through attending toolbox talks and work health and safety meetings;
  2. collecting white cards of all workers you engage to perform work for you;
  3. prepare your SWMS specific to each project and submitting a copy to the principal contractor;
  4. providing sufficient PPE (personal protecting equipment) to your workers, including proper training on their use;
  5. being aware of work health and safety policies and rules in the construction site and ensuring your workers comply too; and
  6. collecting and safely keeping work health and safety documents.

How hard is it to comply?

If you think compliance is hard, you should realise that failing to comply results in hefty fines and even jail time!

There are several ways to ensure compliance – the first step of which is knowing your responsibilities and reading and understanding laws, policies and codes of practice.

Second, you need to find ways to handle paperwork efficiently yet correctly. There are work health safety software and health and safety professionals that can make compliance a breeze.


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