Travelling for work - Employers' WHS obligations

Pursuant to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) and similar harmonised health and safety acts across Australia, a person conducting a business must ensure, so far as reasonably practical, the health and safety of the workers it engages. 

It is important to note that as an employer the above obligation applies whether an employee is working at a company's head office, from home, in a mobile capacity on the road, in the next town, in the outback or even overseas.

Here at Sync or Swim we shy aware from recommending generic health and safety policy templates for mobile and distance work. The reason for this is that each employer must consider and assess the hazards and risks associated with the specific type of work their workers will be conducting and the environment in which that work takes place.  

For more irregular distance work or distance work that requires workers to travel to new locations frequently, the employer or an appropriately qualified worker should conduct a risk assessment to analyze the specific hazards that its workers may encounter at each location and come up with sufficient controls to minimise those risks.

As an employer, it is critical that all workers that you are responsible for are given the highest level of health and safety protection from the hazards arising from their work, so far as is “reasonably practicable”.

When determining what is reasonably practical, each employer must consider the following factors:

  1. The likelihood of a hazard occurring or of a person being exposed to harm.
  2.  The degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk occurred.
  3.  What the business knows, or ought to reasonably know, about the hazard or risk, and ways of eliminating or minimising it.
  4. The availability of suitable ways to eliminate or minimise the hazard or risk.

If a risk is particularly severe, a business will need to clearly demonstrate that costly safety measures are not reasonably practicable due to their expense and that other less costly measures could also effectively minimise the identified risk.

Some of the factors that employers need to consider before sending their employees on distance work include; fatigue management, accommodation facilities, isolation and the remoteness of the location, the availability of adequate meals and nutrition, and any other general hazards specifically associated with that particular location.

When it comes to overseas travel, employers should research the location where they are sending their workers using information and warnings obtained from their contacts on the ground as well as official travel warnings and updates issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which can be viewed from www.smartraveller.gov.au.

Employers must also organise an appointment with a travel doctor for their employees’ prior to departure. It is important to ensure that this appointment is made with sufficient time prior to departure so as to ensure that any necessary travel vaccinations required for a particular location are up to date and effective. Adequate comprehensive travel insurance must also be obtained.

When developing and implementing WHS policies and procedures for our clients we consider the safety of workers as well as practical ways to improve overall business operations.

In this regard, we consider other aspects of your business and can develop practical checklists, policies and procedures that integrate WHS, quality management and productivity. This results in the satisfaction that adequate steps are in place to ensure workers are safe, efficient and providing your clients or customers with a quality product or service.

If you have any queries about this article or your obligations in relation to distance work, do not hesitate to give us a call on 1300 851 281.

Article by: Paul Bright, Business Development and Compliance Specialist.