Do Workers Have the Right to Cease or Refuse Unsafe Work?
Weekly WHS Article 21st February 2022
Yes, workers do have the right to cease or refuse unsafe work.
“A worker may cease, or refuse to carry out, work if the worker has a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to the worker's health or safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard” -section 84, WHS Act.
For example, imagine if, because of short staffing, a worker is told to do a particular job alone that can only be done safely by 2 workers working together. The worker is likely to have a reasonable concern of being exposed to a serious risk of injury by performing this task without the assistance of another worker.
Also, workers have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety. Most workers would probably know that section 28, WHS Act, says;
“while at work a worker must;
(a) take reasonable care for his or her own health and safety, and
(b) take reasonable care that his or her acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons,”
It is essential that workers should understand and know how to work safely and query their seniors if they are concerned about uncontrolled risks in their workplace.
Insufficient Information, Training, Instruction or Supervision?
It may be that a worker has the idea that a serious risk is present in a task that the worker has to do. However, it may be that view is a mistake that has arisen because the PCBU has not provided the worker with sufficient, training, instruction and information or supervision.
Part of a PCBU ‘s primary duty of care as set out in section 19(3)(f) of the WHS Act is to provide workers with;
“any information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from work carried out as part of the conduct of the business or undertaking,”
If that training was insufficient or of poor quality then one or more workers may not have sufficient understanding or know-how to work safely.
You will find useful advice about this below from page 22 of the Code of Practice: How to Manage Work Health & Safety Risks.
“Training, instruction and information
Train your workers in the work procedure to ensure that they are able to perform the task safely. Training must cover the nature of the work, the associated risks and the control measures to be implemented.
Training should require workers to demonstrate that they are competent in performing the task according to the procedure. It is insufficient to simply give a worker the procedure and ask them to acknowledge that they understand and are able to perform it. Training, instruction and information must be provided in a form that can be understood by all workers.
Information and instruction may also need to be provided to others who enter the workplace, such as customers or visitors.
The level of supervision required will depend on the level of risk and the experience of the workers involved. High levels of supervision are necessary where inexperienced workers are expected to follow new procedures or carry out difficult and critical tasks.”
* Material in this article that is based on the SafeWork NSW Code of Practice – How to Manage Work Health & Safety Risks is used under the terms of a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial 3.0 Australia License. To view a copy of this licence, visit www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/au. You are free to copy, communicate and adapt the work for non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to SafeWork NSW and abide by the other licence terms.
21st February 2022