In December 2017 the Supreme Court of Queensland made a groundbreaking decision with respect to the duty of care of an employer towards an employee. A mine operator, a labour hire company, and a host employer were all found liable for injuries sustained by a worker who was involved in a vehicle accident on his way home from working four consecutive night shifts.
$1.25M was awarded in damages to the plaintiff after the court found that the three defendants did not do enough to reduce the risk of the plaintiff’s fatigue and that they could have mitigated that risk in order to prevent or reduce their liability.
After the finding, CFMEU Mining and Energy Division President Steve Smyth said, “Industry is going to have to get their heads together and work out how they deal with it, not give it lip service, but give it the appropriate vigilance it requires to get it right.”
One of the key ways in which the court found the defendants could have prevented or reduced their liability was by providing an adequate program of education for workers about fatigue and its risks.
Such a program could proactively utilise a worksite’s digital sign-in and sign-out procedures as a tool to ensure employees and contractors are presented with the information they need to know, when they need to know it. At both touch points, important information can be provided to the employee or contractor to ensure they are fully informed and aware of the responsibilities and duty of care of both of their employer and of themselves. Such information could include education pieces on how to identify fatigue in the workplace and what to do if such a risk is identified.
At both touch points, the employee or contractor can be provided with the contact details of their health and safety representatives within the workplace, along with any other information or points of contact they may need. The worker can then access this vital information at any time simply by using the Sine Pro App on their smart-phone.
At the completion of both the sign-in and sign-out process, the worker can also be asked to sign an acknowledgement that they are aware of the responsibilities and the duty of care of both themselves and their employer, confirming they are aware of the risks and the policies and procedures the worksite has in place in order to mitigate those risks.
Smyth is absolutely correct; the safety of workers must be given the highest priority on our worksites and we must get this right and in order to achieve this, education is key, especially at the “coal face”.