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UpdatesMar 25, 2014

What to do when a worker breaks the safety rules

Do you have procedures in place to respond to non-compliance with your safety rules in the workplace?

Your workers need to know how serious you and your management team are about health and safety in your workplace – and they need to know that breaching the company policies on health and safety will come with consequences. But what will the consequences be? And how do you know how far to take disciplinary action?

By Michael Selinger

Do you have procedures in place to respond to non-compliance with your safety rules in the workplace?

Your workers need to know how serious you and your management team are about health and safety in your workplace – and they need to know that breaching the company policies on health and safety will come with consequences. But what will the consequences be? And how do you know how far to take disciplinary action?

Michael Selinger, Editor-in-Chief of the Health & Safety Handbook, discusses this and looks at when the breach will call for dismissal.

When can you dismiss an employee for safety breaches?

What do you do when you are faced with an employee who has breached your safety rules? Are you able to dismiss them or do you need to go through a process of weighing up the impact the dismissal will have on the employee?

When one of your workers breaches your safety rules, you as an employer are faced with two duties that, at times, are at odds with each other.

On one hand, you must comply with your health and safety statutory obligations to keep your workplaces safe. On the other, if you are considering dismissing the worker on safety grounds, you must take great care that the dismissal is fair. This will involve:

How would you respond to the following scenario?

A worker who was a licensed forklift driver had been caught a couple of times by management for speeding in the warehouse. He was given a verbal and written warning and then put through refresher training again on the safe use of a forklift. Part of that training involved clear instruction not to speed. The worker was allowed back on the forklift and observed performing in accordance with the rules.

A short time later, when the forklift driver was speeding again he struck and very seriously injured a pedestrian worker. The business was prosecuted by the health and safety regulator for failing to have in place a safe system of keeping forklifts separate from pedestrians.

The question is though, should the business have sacked the forklift driver for breaching the warehouse speed-limit, or was the process the business followed reasonably? Rather than facing an unfair dismissal claim though, the business now faces a health and safety prosecution.

While the trend of unfair dismissal cases in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) emphasises the importance of the duty of the employer to keep workers safe, dismissal will not always be an appropriate response. In some cases, even though there has been a clear safety breach, the FWC has reinstated the worker or ordered the employer to pay compensation.

So, how will you determine the appropriate course of action if a worker breaches your safety rules? And, is it worth the risk of a health and safety prosecution with significant fines and reputational issues, or are you better off dismissing the worker who has breached the safety rules?

How to determine the right course of action when a worker breaches your safety rules

So what are some of the key matters to take into account when looking to terminate the employment of a worker for a safety breach?

Listed below are some factors the FWC has taken into account:

Need help setting up or reviewing your health and safety policies and procedures? Look no further than the Health & Safety Handbook. With more than 70 chapters cover the A-Z of workplace health and safety, the Handbook is a business tool no company should be without. Order yours today.

Kind regards,

Michael Selinger
Editor-in-Chief
Health & Safety Handbook

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