There is a requirement for incidents and near misses to be recorded onsite, explored and for controls to be reviewed and tweaked if necessary. There is also a requirement for certain incidents to be reported without delay to the safety regulators and for the workplace to be preserved for investigation. SafeWork NSW is alerting all businesses to these requirements in the wake of a 140 notices each of which attract fines between $13,000 and 66,000. A key part of the harmonised safety laws, all businesses across Australia should also be on notice, so now is the time to review the requirements for notification and scene preservation.
Following a steep increase in notices issued to PCBUs for non-notification of incidents (to October 2023 140 notices were issued, representing 37 more than all of 2022 and 52 more than all of 2021), SafeWork NSW is putting businesses on alert that they need to understand and comply with incident notice requrirements.
SafeWork NSW highlighted one incident where a man suffered spinal injuries and nerve damage in a three-metre fall at a construction site, but it was not notified until seven weeks later, “resulting in an incident scene which was significantly disturbed”.
PCBUs must “take care not to disturb the incident scene until a SafeWork inspector arrives at the site, or until direction is given by an inspector”, the regulator explained.
“Non-disturbance of the scene does not prevent any action to provide assistance to an injured person or make the site safe,” it noted.
SafeWork head Trent Curtin said the “obligations on people conducting a business or undertaking are clear: if there is a serious injury or illness, a death or a dangerous incident you must report it to SafeWork NSW immediately”.
“For SafeWork inspectors tasked to assess or investigate an incident where the scene has been disturbed due to a lack of notification represents an unjust treatment of the injured party and an unacceptable breach of legislation,” Curtin stressed.
He added that workers who witness an incident or an unsafe practice at work, but feel they can’t raise it at work, can report it anonymously, with photographs, to SafeWork’s Speak Up, Save Lives app.
What to report and when?
A notifiable incident is when;
- A person dies, or
- A person experiences a serious injury or illness, or
- A potentially dangerous incident occurs.
Notification should be made as soon as practical. What this means is different depending on the situation.
“If there is a serious injury onsite it would be expected that the ambulance is called and the injured person is rendered first aid. In larger workplaces where there are many people it is expected that management, the regulator and the insurer would be notified on or around this time”, explains ACAPMAs Elisha Radwanowski.
Where the workplace is smaller it may be appropriate for there to be a slight delay in the notification while the injured person is treated and transported to hospital for example, but notification must be made as soon as practical and no later than 48 hours.
“Notification is important to do as soon as practicable. Letting the regulator know as soon as possible allows them to ask questions, and let you know if the workplace or incident scene needs to be ‘preserved’ for further investigation”, continued Elisha.
In some instances the regulator will instruct certain photos or video to be captured and then will allow the scene to be cleaned and returned to the workplace.
In other circumstances the regulator will need the site preserved, which means nothing interfered with other than to make it safe in the short term and no persons entering the area, until the regulator can attend to investigate.
“This ‘preservation’ can interfere with the operation of the business, but it is necessary and there are very steep penalties for those businesses that fail to preserve an incident scene. In most cases the regulator will ask for photos and videos so the fear of site closure is unfounded. So reporting an incident without delay will avoid a fine for failing to notify but is also likely to result in the site preservation requirements being a lesser burden. Even in the worst cases where a scene will need to be preserved, early notification allows for early investigation and thus results in the workplace being returned to normal earlier than if the incident notification is delayed or if the regulator has discovered the incident themselves”, concluded Elisha.
Incident Notification Information Sheet
Safe Work Australia has produced an information sheet on incident notification – https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-09/Incident-notification-fact-sheet-2015%20UD.PDF
Here to Help
This article is general in nature and covers things to consider, implement and watch out for in your business. It is provided as general advice and you should seek further advice on your situation. ACAPMA Employment Professionals are available to assist ACAPMA members via email@example.com. ACAPMA membership is affordable at only $860inc GST per year for a single site and valuable with sites gaining HR and Compliance advice support and representation as well as a raft of other benefits and discounts. Visit: https://acapma.com.au/membership/ to learn more or to apply for ACAPMA membership.
Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)