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Failing to notify serious incidents is an offence

A transport company has been fined $5000 for not reporting a serious workplace injury more than a year after an injury which hospitalised a worker for a week.

The company pleaded guilty in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court to breaching the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 in that it failed its duty to report a notifiable incident in 2018. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) was first notified of the incident in June 2019 by the injured worker. At no time, prior to or following June 2019, did the company notify WHSQ of the incident.

The magistrate said the company had by its own omission failed in its duty and that ignorance of the law was not an excuse, observing that the director was an older man who could be considered old-school.

Businesses must notify WHSQ of incidents classed as notifiable. A notifiable incident is a fatality or serious injury or illness, or a dangerous incident. A serious injury or illness includes immediate treatment as an inpatient in a hospital and immediate treatment for serious injuries that can involve the spine, head, burns, the eyes, hearing, internal organs, amputation and severe cuts.

Notification is also required for any infection where work is a significant factor and may involve contact with blood or body substances or handling animals, animal hides, skins, wool or hair, animal carcasses or animal waste products.

To be notifiable, an incident must arise out of the conduct of the business or undertaking but may relate to any person, including workers, contractors or members of the public. For example: a worker with epilepsy having a seizure while at work is not notifiable, but a member of the public being seriously injured and admitted to hospital after a scaffold collapses and hits them as they are walking past a construction site is notifiable.

Some types of work-related dangerous incidents must also be notified even if no-one is injured. These are near miss incidents that could have exposed a worker to a serious risk to their health and safety from immediate or imminent exposure to a number of incident types. Examples include the collapse of an excavation on a construction site at night where no one is hurt; an uncontrolled explosion or fire where no one is hurt, or the rollover of registrable plant.

You must notify WHSQ immediately. Generally, a PCBU is considered to be aware of a notifiable incident once one of their supervisors becomes aware of it. For example, when a worker suffers a serious injury and reports it to their immediate supervisor, it is at this point that the PCBU is considered to be aware of the incident.

It is therefore essential to develop internal communication systems to ensure health or safety incidents are promptly brought to the relevant person’s attention.

If a notifiable incident arises out of more than one business or undertaking then each PCBU must ensure the incident has been notified to the regulator. There is no need for all duty holders to notify—only one needs to. For example, contractors at a construction workplace may agree that the principal contractor is responsible for all notifiable incidents that occur at the workplace.

An incident site must not be disturbed until an inspector arrives at the site or directs otherwise (whichever is earlier). The person with management or control of the workplace is responsible for preserving the incident site.

It is an offence if a PCBU fails to notify immediately after becoming aware that a notifiable incident has occurred and does not keep records of notifiable incidents for five years.

WHSQ inspectors are currently contacting Queensland businesses to monitor compliance with incident notification requirements. Contraventions will result in enforcement action, including notices being issued.

Further information

Read more on why and when workplaces need to notify, what steps to take with emergency services, how to notify, and what to do with regard to workers compensation.