Frequently Asked Questions: Emergency Services
How are emergency service organisations affected by the new work health and safety laws?
Emergency service organisations previously owed general duties to their workers and others under occupational health and safety legislation. The new work health and safety laws do not alter those duties. The ability of emergency services to respond to incidents will not be affected as long as they continue to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others.
What are the duties of emergency service organisations under the new work health and safety laws?
The primary health and safety duty under the new work health and safety laws is placed on ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBUs). Emergency service organisations are PCBUs. Therefore emergency services have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others.
For more information on PCBUs see the Interpretive Guidelines: The meaning of ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’.
What has changed for emergency services organisations under the new work health and safety laws?
When the new work health and safety laws are adopted by all jurisdictions, it will mean a nationally consistent set of health and safety laws will apply. The scope of the primary duty of care covers new and evolving work arrangements across Australia, which extend beyond the traditional employer and employee relationship. This means persons conducting a business or undertaking, such as emergency service organisations, owe duties to all workers including employees, contractors, labour hire workers and volunteers who carry out work for the organisation. They also owe duties to others (who are not workers) to ensure, so far is reasonably practicable, that their health and safety is not put at risk from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking.
For information about changes specific to your jurisdiction please contact your state or territory work health and safety regulator.
Who is an ‘officer’ of an emergency service organisation under the new work health and safety laws?
An officer is a senior executive or senior member of the organisation who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part of the business or undertaking. Officers must exercise due diligence in respect of work health and safety to ensure the person conducting the business or undertaking complies with its obligations under the new Work Health and Safety Act.
For more information about officers and their duties, see the Interpretive Guidelines: The health and safety duty of an officer under section 27.
Is an ‘incident controller’ an officer?
An incident controller is unlikely to be an officer under the new work health and safety laws. This is because, although incident controllers may direct particular response operations, they do not generally make, or participate in making the key decisions on how the person conducting a business or undertaking operates. An officer is determined by their ability to influence decision making for the whole or a substantial part of the organisation and by their substantive position within the organisation, not one they may assume in response to a particular incident.
For more information about ‘officers’ under the Work Health and Safety Act, see the Frequently Asked Questions on ‘officers’ or the Interpretive Guidelines: The health and safety duty of an officer under section 27.
What do the new work health and safety laws mean for paid emergency service workers?
Paid workers such as employees and contractors have similar responsibilities under the new work health and safety laws to those under former occupational health and safety laws. These are clearly defined in the new work health and safety laws as duties to:
(a) take reasonable care for their own safety and that of others
(b) comply with reasonable instructions of the emergency service organisation, and
(c) cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the emergency service organisation.
What do the new work health and safety laws mean for volunteer emergency service workers?
Under the new work health and safety laws, volunteers who carry out work for a person conducting a business or undertaking are ‘workers’. This means they have the same duties as paid workers (listed above at question 6). It also means they have a duty to exercise reasonable care in carrying out their work. Volunteers in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Queensland were already included in the definition of a ‘worker’ under previous occupational health and safety legislation.
For more information about volunteers, see the Frequently Asked Questions on volunteers or the Legislative fact sheet series on volunteers which includes:
What do the new work health and safety laws mean for emergency service organisations which attend the same incident?
Emergency service organisations that attend the same incident have duties to workers:
- they engage (or cause to be engaged) and
- whose activities (in carrying out work) are influenced or directed by the organisation.
In these circumstances, where for example a combat agency directs the work of the workers of other agencies, it will owe duties to those workers as well. Each organisation must also, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult, cooperate and coordinate activities with the other duty holders.
Who has duties when two or more emergency service organisations attend the same incident?
An emergency service organisation that assumes control of a site to manage an emergency, has duties to its workers and to others. Other emergency service organisations that attend the scene also have duties to their own workers and to others. A range of factors, including whether a particular organisation had assumed control of the site, would be taken into consideration in deciding whether each of the persons conducting a business or undertaking in attendance had complied with its duties in the circumstances.
When should risk assessments be carried out?
Understandably, emergency service organisations cannot plan for every eventuality and every risk that may arise. Emergency service organisations however, need to identify all potential hazards that are foreseeable in the course of their operations and the risks likely to arise from those hazards. They must eliminate or, if not reasonably practicable, minimise those risks.
For ‘common’ incident responses, a risk assessment should take place as part of any pre-planning process. This should identify the equipment, training and standard operating procedures required to ensure that emergency service workers can safely respond to an incident when it does occur.
During the response to an emergency incident, risks should be identified and continually monitored. A documented risk assessment does not need to be prepared at the time of the incident, but the risks should be eliminated or minimised through the normal assessment and management process of an incident.
What is considered ‘reasonably practicable’ in ensuring health and safety for emergency service operations?
The duty to ensure health and safety is qualified by what is ‘reasonably practicable’ as it is not an absolute duty to ensure that no harm occurs. What is considered reasonably practicable will depend on all the circumstances at a particular time.
It is understood that emergency services must respond to dangerous, time critical situations to help bring incidents under control and to protect life and property. These situations require a risk management approach to operations, recognising the high level and differing nature of the risks faced in emergency service work. It is also recognised that not all risks will be known or contemplated in an emergency situation.