Penalties for breaches to work health and safety law

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A breach to work health and safety law in Queensland occurs either when:

  • a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), or a senior officers' conduct, negligently causes the death of a worker
  • an action is taken that places a person at risk of injury, illness or death
  • steps are not taken to avoid a risky situation from occurring
  • there is a failure to comply with regulatory requirements.

If you do not fulfil your duties or obligations, you are in breach of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) or the Electrical Safety Act 2002 (ES Act) and could be prosecuted.

Examples of breaches of the WHS Act include:

  • exposing workers to the risk of excessive noise
  • working at heights where the risk of falling is not controlled
  • allowing unlicenced operators to use specified equipment (e.g. forklifts)
  • not ensuring that plant is appropriately guarded to eliminate or minimise exposure of workers to moving parts
  • failing to have in place safe work method statements for work carried out in or near a confined space
  • not notifying Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) when a notifiable serious injury or illness occurs at your workplace.

Examples of breaches of the ES Act include:

  • performing unlicenced electrical work
  • carrying out electrical work on energised electrical equipment when not permitted
  • allowing unlicenced operators to use specified equipment (e.g. forklifts)
  • not testing electrical work to ensure it is electrically safe
  • not notifying the Office of Industrial Relations of a serious electrical incident (SEI) or dangerous electrical event (DEE).

Categories of offences

There are 4 categories of offences for failing to comply with a health and safety duty under the WHS Act or an electrical safety duty under the ES Act, depending on the degree of seriousness or liability involved.

Industrial manslaughter—the highest penalty under either the WHS Act or the ES Act is for industrial manslaughter where a PCBU, or a senior officer, negligently causes the death of a worker.

Where a PCBU, or senior officer, commits industrial manslaughter, a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment for an individual or $10 million for a body corporate applies.

Find more information and definitions of industrial manslaughter.

Category 1—the next highest penalty under either the WHS Act or the ES Act is for a category 1 offence. These are serious breaches where a duty holder recklessly endangers a person to risk of death or serious injury. Offences involving reckless conduct will be prosecuted in the District Court.

  • Corporation: up to $3 million
  • Individual as a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) or an officer: up to $600,000/5 years jail
  • Individual (e.g. a worker): up to $300,000/5 years jail.

Category 2—failure to comply with a health and safety duty or electrical safety duty that exposes a person to risk of death, serious injury or illness. Offences will be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court.

  • Corporation: up to $1.5 million
  • Individual as a PCBU or an officer: up to $300,000
  • Individual (e.g. a worker): up to $150,000.

Category 3—failure to comply with a health and safety duty or electrical safety duty. Offences will be prosecuted in the Magistrates Court.

  • Corporation: up to $500,000
  • Individual as a PCBU or an officer: up to $100,000
  • Individual (e.g. a worker): up to $50,000.

On-the-spot fines

An on-the-spot fine, also known as an infringement notice, is an alternative to prosecuting alleged offenders directly through court.

On-the-spot fines may be issued for work health and safety offences prescribed in the State Penalties Enforcement Regulation 2014.

Both PCBUs and workers can be issued with an on-the-spot fine. Examples of offences which can be issued with a fine include (but are not limited to):

  • failure to comply with an improvement notice
  • failure to record a notifiable incident (for example a work-caused serious injury or illness)
  • allowing persons to carry out high risk work without seeing written evidence that the worker has the relevant high risk work licence
  • failure to allow health and safety representative to exercise his/her powers or functions
  • failure to use/wear personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by PCBU in accordance with information, training or reasonable instruction given by PCBU (fine issued to worker)
  • failure to test electrical work
  • failure to ensure electrical equipment was de-energised before carrying out electrical work.

The fine may be paid in full at any Workplace Health and Safety Queensland office within 28 days or arrangements can be made to pay an on-the-spot fine of $200 or more in instalments.

The alleged offender can choose to contest the infringement notice in a Magistrates Court.

Failure to pay

Not paying the fine can lead to further enforcement action including:

  • redirection of wages or funds from a bank account
  • issuing of a warrant for the seizure and sale of property
  • suspension of the debtor's driver's licence until the debt is satisfied
  • registration of the debt for enforcement interstate
  • issuing an arrest and imprisonment warrant.

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