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Why: “I didn’t know” won’t cut it anymore.

How would your family survive if you lost all your assets and you were facing jail time?

This is the harsh reality of the new Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Harmonisation Legislation, businesses from sole-traders to corporations including senior management will be liable for Health and Safety in the workplace and the catchall “I didn’t know XYZ wasn’t safe” or “I didn’t know my employee’s weren’t doing it safely” won’t stop you receiving hefty fines or possible jail time.

Key changes to the new WHS Laws are based around definitions of some fundamental words:

The term ‘Employer’ has been replaced with ‘Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU)’ and Employee is replaced with ‘Worker’ now defined as employees, volunteers, contractors, sub-contractors, apprentices, work experience students and outworkers.

The definition of ‘Person’ in PCBU is defined as not only an individual ie sole trader but also includes companies, associations and partnerships. For example, a PCBU could be a retailer, manufacturing business, self-employed driver, government department, school, etc. Householders could also be classed as a PCBU if they employ directly (not via agencies) a nanny or cleaner, in this instance the householder would be liable and have to comply with the new WHS laws.

How does this affect you? As a PCBU or an officer (Director, CEO, Owner, Manager, etc) of a PCBU you must meet the standard of behaviour expected of a “reasonable person in the same position and conducting the same duties”. Meaning, if it can be shown a hazard in your workplace would have been identified by ‘a reasonable person in the same position as you’ and you failed to identify the hazard, which caused an accident, then you would be held liable under the new WHS Laws.

Whilst the WHS Laws have been legislated, WA is in the process of final review and is expected to sign this year. Therefore WA businesses still have time to evaluate their WHS standards and ensure they are in compliance when the new laws come into effect. “Not Knowing” will not be a defence in any WHS action taken against you.