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If duty holders fail to meet their obligations under Queensland health and safety legislation, inspectors can use various enforcement options.
If there is no serious risk to health and safety, an inspector can issue an improvement notice. This notice orders an employer to fix a particular health and safety offence, within a specified time.
The improvement notice includes information about the offence, what action to take to rectify it, and what date it must be remedied by. The inspector will follow-up to ensure the required actions have been taken.
A prohibition notice differs to an improvement notice in that it requires an employer to take immediate action to rectify a health and safety breach. It's issued if an inspector believes there is a serious risk to health and safety.
A prohibition notice will outline why the inspector believes the notice is required, the activity creating the serious risk, any relevant sections of legislation being contravened, and any remedial action required. An inspector will also follow up to ensure work is stopped while the serious risk exists.
Infringement notice (on-the-spot fine)
An infringement notice is generally issued for certain breaches of work health and safety laws that aren't serious enough to require a prosecution or other sanction, and they attract a fine.
The notice will include a description of the offence but won't contain information on how to rectify it. An inspector will therefore issue an improvement or prohibition notice at the same time as the infringement notice, which outlines what needs to be done to remedy the breach.
In December 2016. 18 new offences under the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 became infringement notice offences, commonly known as 'on-the-spot fines', under the State Penalties Enforcement Regulation 2014. The new infringement offences relate to high-risk activities involving asbestos, hazardous chemicals and construction work.
In 2017, two additional infringement offences were introduced by the Electrical Safety Office relating to work near overhead power lines.
If there is a suspected breach of work health and safety legislation, WHSQ may initiate a prosecution, which takes place in either the Magistrates or District Court – depending on the category of offence.
There are three categories of offences under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
- Category 1 – when a person with a health and safety duty exposes an individual to risk of death or serious injury or illness and is reckless.
- Category 2 – when a person with a health and safety duty fails to comply with that duty, and failure exposes an individual to risk of death or serious injury or illness.
- Category 3 – when a person with a health and safety duty fails to comply with the duty.
There are a broad range of sentencing options available to magistrates or judges if a person is found to have breached their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Some examples include:
- Financial penalties
- Community service orders
- Good behaviour bonds
- Adverse publicity orders
- Training orders.
Read WHSQ’s Guidelines for Prosecutions, which outline how WHSQ conducts prosecutions.
In addition to the three categories of offences, if a worker dies as a result of a workplace incident, a 'senior officer' of a business can be charged with Industrial Manslaughter if it can be proven that their negligence in managing health and safety resulted in the workers death. If found guilty of Industrial Manslaughter, they can be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail or a company can be fined over $10 million.
Read more about the offence of Industrial Manslaughter.
An enforceable undertaking is an alternative to prosecution in the event of a contravention of health and safety or electrical safety legislation (excluding a category 1 offence). It is a legally binding commitment to implement specific health and safety initiatives or projects within the construction industry. The positive outcome of an enforceable undertaking is that it can deliver benefits for workers, industry and the community, as opposed to there purely being a financial penalty.