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Take me to your employer: the organisational reach of occupational health and safety regulation

CollectionsANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet)
Title: Take me to your employer: the organisational reach of occupational health and safety regulation
Author(s): Johnstone, Richard
Wilson, Therese
Keywords: liability
corporate employer
corporate officers
franchise arrangements
corporate groups
occupational health and safety regulation
Publisher: The Australian National University, The National Research Centre for OHS Regulation (NRCOHSR)
Series/Report no.: Working Paper (National Research Centre for OHS Regulation (NRCOHSR), The Australian National University) ; No. 41
[Conclusion] We have explored two dimensions of the Australian OHS statutes which enable statutory OHS duties to reach more than one employer or self-employed person within a corporate group or network. First, most of the OHS statutes contain provisions extending the reach of employer’s duty beyond the employer’s employees. One legislative technique is to deem contractors and their employees to be employees of the principal contractor. Another imposes duties on employers and self-employed persons to persons who are not employees, so that employers and self-employed persons can be responsible for the OHS of firms, and those they engage, lower in the contractual chain. These duties are non-delegable, meaning that the principal contractor cannot seek to delegate OHS duties to firms lower in the contractual chain. Second, new Victorian ‘shadow officer’ provisions can be applied to remove difficulties and doubt as to the liability of partners in a partnership, officers of unincorporated associations, joint venturers, and holding and subsidiary companies within corporate groups. While the provisions can be argued simply to confirm that a partner who fails to take reasonable care in relation to OHS will be guilty of an offence, we demonstrate that there are very real benefits to having ‘shadow officer’ provisions which remove uncertainties about the liability of unincorporated associations, joint ventures and corporate groups. Perhaps most significantly, the Victorian corporate officer provisions have the potential to extend liability to individuals and other entities within organisational structures, where those individuals and entities make or participate in making decisions that affect the whole or a substantial part of the organisation’s business, and are responsible for an OHS offence having been committed, due to their failure to take reasonable care. We suggest that similar provisions should be included in all OHS statutes, to overcome at least some of the barriers limiting group responsibility for OHS statutory duties.


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