Role of work health and safety inspectors

Work health and safety inspectors are responsible for enforcing the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (the Regulation). The work health and safety inspectors have wide-ranging powers to help them fulfil their functions. Inspectors have powers to:

  • enter non-residential premises at any time during work hours without a warrant;
  • conduct inspections and investigations;
  • take samples, photographs, records and measurements;
  • gather information, examine and copy documents;
  • require that the workplace be left undisturbed;
  • conduct interviews and make enquiries; and
  • issue notices to enforce compliance with obligations under the Act .

Work health and safety inspectors investigate workplace incidents, and conduct workplace inspections to evaluate compliance, and where necessary enforce compliance, to assist relevant persons and organisations meet their work health and safety obligations under the Act. At the same time, work health and safety inspectors have a primary role in providing advice and increasing awareness of persons with obligations under the Act.

Visits by work health and safety inspectors to workplaces or work sites can be at random or may be part of targeted programs. A visit may be to investigate a complaint or incident, or to investigate an injury or death. Upon formal request by a person in control of a business or undertaking, an inspector may review provisional improvement notices issued by health and safety representatives. An Inspector may also visit a workplace to promote better awareness of tools, processes and options for achieving a safe workplace.

When a work health and safety inspector visits a workplace they will evaluate work health and safety issues and choose what action, if any, they can or need to take. The evaluation takes into account a number of factors including:

  • the nature of any hazards and the risk to health and safety; and,
  • the workplace commitment to implementing systems that ensure effective and continuous improvement to work health and safety.
  • Inspectors can issue notices to enforce immediate compliance with obligations under the Act. They can also impose penalties or recommend prosecutions for breaches of the Act.

Work health and safety inspectors have enforcement powers including:

Improvement Notice - A written notice cautioning about an unsafe practice, particular hazard or potential risk to health and safety. The notice states the part of the Act or Regulation covering the offence. The notice requires corrective action to be taken within the timeframe specified.

Prohibition Notice - A written direction that prohibits (stops) any activity where the inspector thinks someone may be at risk of imminent (immediate) and serious harm. The notice requires the person in charge of the activity to cease the activity. However, in some circumstances the inspector may allow the activity to continue in accordance with the directions specified in the notice.

Infringement Notice - A notice issued to a person where there are reasonable grounds to believe that person has committed an 'infringement notice offence' under the Act.

Prosecution action – Access Canberra can recommend to the Director of Public Prosecutions that prosecution action be taken under the Act against any person or organisation, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed.

A person, who has been issued a notice, or that person's employer, can ask for a review of the notice. The request to review must be submitted in writing to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Anyone not satisfied with the result of the review of a notice may elect to have the matter heard before the Industrial Relations Commission.

The person in control of a business or undertaking must display improvement or prohibition notices in a prominent place at or near any workplace affected by the notice until the requirements of the notice have been met.

A person must not, without reasonable excuse, obstruct or hinder an inspector in the exercise of their powers under the Act.

A person must not give an inspector information that is, to the person’s knowledge, false or misleading or give the inspector any documents containing false or misleading information.

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