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OHS considerations for food businesses

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Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws operate in each state and territory of Australia to regulate health and safety generally.  While there are no specific laws applicable to the food services sector, the way in which OHS laws apply in this industry is unique.

As a minimum, food businesses should ensure that all equipment used in their business is in good and complete working order and regularly serviced and repaired (where repairs are required).  Food businesses should also be aware of the possible hazards that exist in their businesses, including among others:

  • Hazards from guarding being removed or missing from equipment
  • Equipment still being in use despite having failed test and tag procedures
  • Exposed wires on equipment
  • Injuries caused by incorrect use of equipment
  • Injuries caused from carrying heavy items
  • slips and trips hazards

Although each state and territory has its own OHS laws, there is a degree of commonality in the principles of OHS across Australia. In each state and territory, there is an obligation for employers to identify hazards, assess risks arising from those hazards and to control these risks.

In the event that an accident or death occurs as a result of an employer’s failure to comply with its OHS obligations, the consequences vary depending on the state or territory in which the incident occurs. Needless to say, the statutory penalties can be very severe.

The key function of the recently established federal body, Safe Work Australia, is to develop a national policy with respect to OHS regulation and to develop model legislation to be adopted in each State and Territory of Australia.  This will assist in facilitating standard OHS legislation across each State and Territory over time.

It is critical that all food businesses are aware of their OHS obligations and implement effective OHS policies and procedures and that employees and visitors are provided with appropriate training where necessary. Policies and procedures should be specific and referable to the hazards that have been identified in the business.

Beyond having effective policies and procedures in place, business owners have a responsibility to ensure that all workers are aware of safe work practices that have been put in place and receive appropriate refresher training as and when necessary.  

What does this mean?

Business owners in each state and territory are exposed to liability for employees who are injured during the course of their employment.  It is essential that policies and procedures are implemented in the business and that the employees are given training on a recurring basis.  Regular inspections should be conducted by suitably qualified personnel of the workplace to ensure the workplace is safe and work practices are being followed.

OHS authorities in each state provide useful information on their websites setting out the general obligations of an employer.

Authors:  Nick Rimington and Chao Ni

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Send an email to Chao