It is in the employer's interest to have a
prepared plan responding to the Inspector's visit
which is co-operative and helpful which also protects the
employer's legal and business interests.
A recent WA case acts as a timely reminder of the powers and
protections of statutory health and safety inspectors.
In October 2007, the owner of an automotive mobile mechanic
business pleaded guilty to using threatening or abusive or
insulting language to a WorkSafe Inspector who was lawfully
carrying out their duties. The business owner was fined $1000
and ordered to pay $1194 in costs.
The facts of the prosecution case are unremarkable. The
owner's workshop was visited by a WorkSafe Inspector
who, as a result of the visit, issued five Improvement Notices.
The owner was unreceptive to the WorkSafe Inspector. Following
the visit a compliance slip indicating that one of the
Improvement Notices had been complied with was received by
WorkSafe. Several reminder letters were sent to the owner,
which were then returned marked "return to sender" by
The WorkSafe Inspector returned to the workshop to determine
if the other Improvement Notices had been complied with. The
WorkSafe Inspector informed the owner that he would be required
to attend a formal interview. The owner became agitated and
abusive towards the WorkSafe Inspector. The WorkSafe Inspector
at one point felt that the owner may become violent.
Although many employers do not feel overjoyed with the
arrival on site of a WorkSafe Inspector, the above approach, or
any approach that hinders, obstructs or abuses a WorkSafe
Inspector, is both unhelpful and an offence.
In each jurisdiction, statutory Inspectors appointed under
the relevant legislation are given extensive powers to assist
them in performing their roles. It is an offence to hinder,
obstruct or abuse an Inspector.
Employers, and in fact all persons at a workplace, should be
mindful of the obligations towards Inspectors and what powers
they can exercise in the workplace.
The specific powers vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction
but frequently include the power to:
enter any workplace;
interview relevant persons and compel them to answer
questions (and in some jurisdictions these interviews can be
conducted in private including without legal
take samples, or seize and have tested plant or
take documents (other than those covered by legal
professional privilege); and
give directions, including directions to leave a site
undisturbed and issuing Improvement Notices or Prohibition
Employers are also usually required to provide whatever
assistance is required by the Inspector.
It is important to note that, in most cases, seeking to
obtain legal advice before answering questions or providing
documents is not sufficient to amount to the offence of
obstructing an Inspector.
Employers should, as far as possible, foster and maintain a
positive working relationship with Inspectors. However,
employers must be aware that the evidence obtained by
Inspectors can and may be used as evidence in the event that a
prosecution occurs for a breach of safety legislation.
Although Inspectors have extensive powers, and should not be
obstructed in the performance of their duties, that does not
mean that employers should not consider and plan how they will
respond to an Inspector's visit.
In this regard, employers should consider:
what specific site safety inductions should be carried
what resources will be made available (for example a room
to conduct interviews);
who will accompany the Inspector during site visits;
what briefing will be given to employees prior to them
being interviewed or whether the presence of a legal
representative will be requested;
who is authorised to speak on behalf of the company;
what documents are not required to be provided to
how the company will respond to specific directions or
Inspectors can provide employers with valuable assistance in
making a workplace safer. If, however. there has been a breach
of the safety legislation, particularly one which has resulted
in a serious injury, their focus in conducting an investigation
may become orientated to prosecution. It is in the
employer's interest to have a prepared plan responding
to the Inspector's visit which is co-operative and
helpful which also protects the employer's legal and
Thanks to Rob Greig for his help in preparing this
The content of this article is intended to provide a
general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should
be sought about your specific circumstances.
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