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Several decades ago, Australian employees were hardly protected whereas now the government pays special attention to development of proper relations between the employer and employee. Safety is one of the primary concerns of all stakeholders involved. Safety regulations in Australia have been alternated several times throughout recent decades.1
The changes have positively affected working environment for both employees and employers as the former have obtained security and protection while the latter are also secure from a variety of legal proceedings.
Admittedly, the employer’s responsibility can be regarded as almost absolute though employees should also comply with a number of regulations. Certain cases can illustrate positive changes that have taken place in legislation and at workplace.
When considering occupational safety in Australia, the following acts are often referred to: Work Safety Act 2008, Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act (2004), Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic), Workplace Health and Safety Act 2007 (NT), Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld), Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 (SA), etc.2
These acts define major regulations to comply with at workplace. Definitions of who major stakeholders involved are as well as their duties and responsibilities are provided in the acts.
Thus, the employer’s duties include duties to provide safe working places and consult employees to make sure the latter are aware of all necessary precautions (provide comprehensive consultations on all matters associated with occupational safety at a particular workplace).3
At the same time, employees also have duties including the duty to comply with the necessary documentation on safety and follow all safety regulations provided by the employer.4 Notably, the acts highlight general regulations and define more specified documentation which should be used in particular spheres.
Apart from this, the acts define specific committees and inspection bodies that ensure compliance with the necessary norms. Finally, the act also ensures validity of inner documents on safety which comply with the necessary state regulations.
As has been mentioned above, employers have become more secured during recent decades. It is possible to consider a number of cases which illustrate existing trends in this field. For instance, Worksafe vs. Victoria SES (2009) is the case that illustrates attention people pay to instructions.
In this case, the employer was prosecuted for inability to provide proper instructions to the staff and volunteers.5 The case suggests that now employers are considered to be liable for providing comprehensive and effective training of the employees.
Many cases suggest that officials tend to impose almost ‘absolute’ responsibility on employers.6 For instance, now employers are responsible for mental health of employees. It is possible to consider the case Johnstone vs. Bloomsbury Area Health Authority which took place in the UK in 1992 when “junior doctor suffered from stress and depression as a result of being required to work as much as 100 hours per week”.7
As a result the judge decided that it was the employer’s responsibility to take into account mental health of the employees. Therefore, it is obvious that now employees obtain greater care on the part of employers. However, it is also important to note that though authorities have acknowledged the employer’s liability to take into account the employees’ mental health and wellbeing, the standards are yet to be defined.8
It is possible to consider another case which suggests that the standards should be developed. In Petch vs. Excise Commissioners one of high ranking Civil Servants had a serious break-down.9 The court admitted that the employee had to fulfil tasks which required exceptional talents and skills.
Therefore, it was acknowledged that it is the employer’s responsibility to assign tasks which the employee is able to fulfil.10 At the same time, it was noted that the Plaintiff did not reveal any signs of the up-coming break-down, and, thus, the Defendant could not foresee that the Plaintiff was about to suffer the break-down.
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The present case also illustrates the necessity to work out certain standards in the sphere of mental workload.
Notably, each sphere is characterised by various peculiarities. Banking is regarded as one of the spheres where employees can be exposed to certain danger. The first most important case in this sphere was that of Finance Sector Union of Australia, Commonwealth Bank Officers’ Section, NSW Branch v Commonwealth Bank of Australia.11
The Defendant was prosecuted for the inability to ensure the employer’s safety. The employer was a victim of an armed robbery of the bank.
Clearly, the case suggests that contemporary employers are regarded liable for providing proper working conditions to employees as well as ensuring safety in different settings. Now the employers should minimize any possible risks at workplace.
Opinion and Conclusion
Admittedly, the employer is responsible for providing safe workplace to the employee. It is also the employer’s responsibility to consider such issues as mental workload, instructing and training, etc. The employer, by all means, should ensure that the employee can work safely and fulfil his/her tasks without any danger to his/her health or wellbeing.
The employer has lots of possibilities to achieve this goal. Every employer should take into account previous cases which took place in different places and different countries to make sure the dangerous situation will not occur.
Nonetheless, it is also necessary to note that the employer’s responsibility cannot be absolute as the employee has also certain kind of responsibility. Thus, the employee should be (and is) liable for complying with existing rules, standards and guidelines. It is impossible to prosecute the employer for accidents which took place because of the employee’s negligence or inability to follow the rules.
The employee should also remain responsible as he/she is the one who is completing tasks at workplace. At that, the employee should also be active. It is difficult and sometimes impossible to foresee every situation that can threaten employee’s health or wellbeing.
Therefore, the employee should report about any hazards and suggest possible solutions as the employee has extensive information on the matter. Thus, it is possible to state that the employer’s responsibility should be almost absolute as employees are also responsible for following the rules and for reporting about possible hazards.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that now people acknowledged that the employer should be responsible for the employees’ health and wellbeing. Notably, now employers are forced to consider such issues as mental workload and avoidance of excessive stress, or even certain force majeure, e.g. robbery in banking.
However, there is still lack of standards which could be used at workplace. Besides, it is also important to remember that employees should also be responsible as they have the responsibility to follow the rules and guidance provided by the employer. Therefore, it is possible to conclude that the employer’s responsibility should be seen as almost absolute.
ACT Government, Work Safety Act 2008 (repealed), 2012. Web.
Bunn, A & Guthrie, R ‘Occupational health and safety in the banking industry’, The Finance Industry, vol. 11, 2009, p. 79-89.
Dessler, G, Griffiths, J & Lloyd-Walker, B, Human resource management: theory, skills, application. Pearson Australia, Sydney, 2007.
Dunne, MJ ‘Employers’ liability for employee stress’, The Bar Review, vol. 5, no. 9, 2000, pp. 503-505.
Eburn, M ‘Changes to occupational health and safety laws and the impact on volunteers in the emergency services’, The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 26, no. 4, 2011, pp. 43-47.
1. G Dessler, J Griffiths & B Lloyd-Walker, Human resource management: theory, skills, application, Pearson Australia, Sydney, 2007.
2. M Eburn, ‘Changes to occupational health and safety laws and the impact on volunteers in the emergency services’, The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 26, no. 4, 2011, p. 44.
3. ACT Government, Work Safety Act 2008 (repealed), 2012.
5. M Eburn, ‘Changes to occupational health and safety laws and the impact on volunteers in the emergency services’, The Australian Journal of Emergency Management, vol. 26, no. 4, 2011, p. 46.
6. MJ Dunne, ‘Employers’ liability for employee stress’, The Bar Review, vol. 5, no. 9, 2000, pp. 503-505.
7. ibid., p. 503.
9. MJ Dunne, ‘Employers’ liability for employee stress’, The Bar Review, vol. 5, no. 9, 2000, p. 503.
10. ibid., p. 504.
11. A Bunn & R Guthrie, ‘Occupational health and safety in the banking industry’, The Finance Industry, 2009, p. 81.