Occupational health and safety

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Chapter 12 Occupational health and safety

INTRODUCTION

The health and safety of workers within any workplace is provided for under both legislative provisions and common law decisions. Legal obligations and rights are imposed on employers and employees with the aim of establishing and maintaining safe systems of work and safe work environments. The legislative provisions and common law principles have application not only to the safe system of work within a pharmacy but also to the environment in which the pharmacist, and pharmacy staff, carry out their practice. The practice of pharmacy may involve many potentially hazardous activities such as compounding using bioactive materials, preparing cytotoxic doses or working with heavy pharmacy stock. It is important therefore that pharmacists are aware of the mutual obligations imposed upon them not only as an owner of a pharmacy, or as an employer, but also as an employee.

The legislative framework at Commonwealth, state and territory levels provides for the various systems of occupational health and safety regulation. The legislation is set out in Table 12.1.

Table 12.1 Occupational health and safety legislation

Commonwealth Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991
ACT Occupational Health and Safety Act 1989
NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000
NT Work Health Act 1991
QLD Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995
SA Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986
Tas Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995
Vic Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
WA Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984

The provisions of the respective Acts impose duties on: employers; employees; persons who are self-employed; persons who control work premises; and those who manufacture, supply and install goods and services, plant and equipment.

It is worthy of note that in 2008, an inter-governmental agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety was signed between the federal, state and territory governments. While the present laws are based on similar underlying principles, it was recognised that there were still differences between the jurisdictions in the details and application of these laws. The Council of Australian Governments agreed to work to harmonise occupational health and safety legislation according to the principles and processes outlined in the document.

OBLIGATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE EMPLOYER

The legislative provisions in each of the jurisdictions are, in the main, very similar. The following will therefore provide an overview of the statutory obligations imposed on employers:

While the Northern Territory[1] requires that some employers have a written health and safety plan, the Commonwealth[2], South Australia[3] and the ACT[4] require that all employers have such a plan.

The employer is obliged to identify and control any risks to safety that are, or may be, present in a workplace. That is, the legislation imposes a positive and proactive obligation on the employer to identify hazards, and then to undertake a risk analysis with the aim of eliminating or controlling hazards in the workplace. In pursuit of this objective, employers in all jurisdictions have access to authorities established to assist in the development of codes of practice that aim to provide safe working environments.[5] A failure by an employer or self-employed individual to abide by such a code may be used as evidence of a failure to provide a safe system or safe place of work. Codes of practice and national standards are also provided by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council (ASCC), which was established under the Australian Workplace Safety Standards Act 2005 (Cth). It should be noted however, that these codes are advisory documents only and do not carry any legislative or regulatory force. The ASCC has, as part of its membership, representatives from the federal, state and territory governments together with representatives from employer and employee organisations.

OBLIGATIONS AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPLOYEES

Employees under the respective federal, state and territory legislation and regulations are obliged to take care of the health and safety of themselves and others in their workplace. It is an expectation under the legislation that employees will cooperate with others, including the employer, in establishing and maintaining a safe place of work. Although the specific obligations are identified in the legislation in each of the jurisdictions, employees are generally required to take reasonable care to ensure the safety of themselves and others, cooperate with the instructions of the employer in promoting workplace health and safety and ensure they use equipment in a manner that is consistent with the health and safety of themselves and others. As an example, section 20 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW) provides:

Duties of employees

Section 21 states:

Should an employee become aware of an imminent threat to their health and safety, or the health and safety of others, they have a duty to take reasonable measures to ensure both their safety and the safety of others. In such circumstances an inspector may also order the cessation of work. (For information on inspectors see the section under ‘Compliance’ in this chapter.)

HEALTH AND SAFETY REPRESENTATIVES

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