Why on-hire firms need to be responsible for worker safety


Three recent cases in Victoria have yet again proven that on-hire firms cannot, and therefore should not, be relying on host organisations to ensure the health and safety of their workers.

Before we go into the individual cases, let me clarify what the law states. In simple terms, the on-hire firm and host organisation have a shared duty of care for the health and safety of workers which is not transferable. This means both should be invested in the health and safety of workers to ensure staff are adequately protected on the job.

Recent case studies

One labour hire company was engaged to provide employees to undertake tasks by a company at its Victorian premises and conducted a hazard and risk assessment at the workplace prior to doing so.

The company identified a number of risks at the job site, including the potential for vehicles to collide with staff, but failed to engage anyone qualified to provide advice on the health and safety of employees.

An on-hire employee was subsequently hit by a forklift on the job and was treated for soft tissue damage and muscle pain.

The company pled guilty and was sentenced to an adjourned undertaking (where they agree to abide by certain conditions from the court) for 12 months, paid $3,500 to the Court fund and costs of $4,725.

Another labour hire company was engaged to provide staff to assist with unloading containers at a logistics company in Victoria. An employee was subsequently hit by a forklift when they walked behind it and suffered a fractured leg.

The on-hire company was found to have not undertaken risk assessments at the workplace for its staff. The charges against the on-hire company were withdrawn and the company entered into an Enforceable Undertaking (where they agree to conditions set by the court) and have committed to spend $94,000 as part of their Enforceable Undertaking.

A third on-hire company had staff assigned at a local brewery in Victoria when one of their staff became entangled in machinery and had her arm amputated as a result of the injury. The company was found not to have conducted the required ongoing checks for staff safety at the site and after pleading guilty, was, without conviction, ordered to pay a fine of $20,000 and costs of $4,116.

To be clear about what is required from on-hire companies to ensure the health and safety of their workers, they must have systems of work for health and safety through the on-hire life cycle including:

  • contracts

  • on-hire induction

  • verifying host induction

  • assessing host’s health and safety management systems

  • assessing host’s work site

  • reviewing host’s health and safety management systems and site on a regular basis

  • detailed job briefs

  • regular consultation with on-hire workers while on placement

  • task observation

  • resources to implement the health and safety management system including employing/engaging suitably qualified staff to provide advice.

On-hire companies must be able to present evidence that these systems are in place should it be requested or in the case of legal action. It is also a moral imperative to ensure the health and safety of staff being sent on assignment.

To help on-hire organisations to remain compliant with the law, RCSA has developed a New Zealand Workplace Health & Safety Guide which will soon be available for members. To register your interest in having a copy of this guide, please click here. For Australian businesses, Safe Work Australia has a Labour Hire Fact Sheet which is available here.

RCSA also hosts regular training on Mastering On-Hire & Contracting Safety. If you would like to know more about these courses, please contact the RCSA Learning Centre.

It is in the best interests of your company and your on-hire workers that you understand your obligations under the law and to your staff to ensure their health and safety. If you would like more information on this please contact me.

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