When reading the draft documents for Australia’s harmonised OHS laws, it is very useful to run various scenarios or hazards through one’s mind and see how these could be affected or managed. The most challenging hazards are the psychosocial hazards (or bio-psychosocial as they were referred to at the recent Comcare conference in Canberra) of stress, mental health and all their varieties. If the laws are truly to be for the modern world, they need to incorporate modern hazards and maybe suggest ways of managing them.
An older but often more persistent hazard involves the management of contractors on one’s site. Many hours are spent each year by companies on the selection of contractors, induction, monitoring, arguing and legal action (often in that order). Regardless of the quality of one’s experience, managing contractors can be challenging.
Will the new OHS laws proposed by the Australian Government make it easier to manage contractors?
According to Andrew Douglas, a workplace lawyer based in Melbourne, at the moment, the employer of contractors is directly responsible for the safety of the contractors. If the contractors work off-site, then that responsibility may extend to the principal.
Douglas believes that under the new national regime, based on the current draft papers, the relationship will be different. He says
“The key change is the imposition of broad, non-delegable and concurrent duties on persons who conduct a business or undertaking. The duty is owed to any persons or workers who the business or undertaking exercises control or influence over.
As a result, principals owe a primary duty to contractors and contractors’ employees working onsite. Further, directors and senior managers owe a positive duty to exercise due diligence to ensure the business complies with the OHS legislation.
By December 2011 , there will be no doubt that businesses will owe an identical duty to any worker on site as they does (sic) to their own employees.”
It may be well worth reading the draft document repeatedly with a different hazard group with each reading or, even better, use one’s colleagues or staff to read the drafts with a particular hazard in mind and then workshop the results.
Part of Andrew Douglas’ paper on contractor management is available HERE