Author Box
Articles Categories
All Categories
Articles Resources

Enforcing Safety Law - Closing the Door After the Horse Has Bolted

June 07, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 221

A Rude Awakening

On the morning of 22 October 2009 Luke Clark, a 17-year-old apprentice plumber and another apprentice approached their employer's van, parked in his driveway. Luke pressed the remote door lock to open the van. The picture to the left shows the result - the van exploded with enough force to spread debris more than 100 metres from the blast site, explode windows and damage cars parked nearby. Fortunately Luke, and his workmate suffered only minor injuries and should consider themselves extremely lucky.

The cause of the explosion was acetylene gas that escaped from a leaking cylinder stored in the van. Activating the remote locking system provided an ignition source for the trapped gas resulting in the explosion.

On 23 May 2011, Michael Ponton, the owner of the business employing the apprentices, was convicted of failing to provide a safe workplace and was fined $AU 25 000. The judgement is not available on the net so it is not possible to understand the reasons for this judgement. However, I wonder what the penalty would have been had there been a death or serious injury as a result of this? I would guess the penalties would have been far more severe but is that the intention of safety law?

Principles of Safety Law

Safety law is based around concepts of prevention - what can or should be done to prevent injuries and deaths from happening in workplaces. Employers are expected to be aware of the hazards in the workplaces they manage and to have suitable precautions in place to prevent injuries from happening. Employees are expected to work in a way that doesn't threaten their own or other people's safety and to abide by instructions given by their employer to prevent injuries from happening. These are not reactive requirements - employers are not so much required to introduce precautions or employees to change their work practices after someone's been injured as they are expected to take action to reduce the possibility of injuries happening. It's a predictive requirement.

Therefore, breaches of safety law are failures to take that predictive action irrespective of whether or not someone is injured and irrespective of the severity of those injuries. All to often though, courts impose penalties based on the results of a breach of safety law. The more severe the results, the more severe the penalty (and, of course the inverse).

Enforcing Safety Law

If one of the functions of the legal system is to reflect a society's expectations and penalise those who do not conform to those expectations then what message are these types of judgements giving? That it's OK to breach safety laws provided no one gets killed or seriously injured? Is this the level of safety expected by the community? The outcry after disasters such as the Deepwater Horizon or the Pine River Mine or any of the many other similar events is usually "why wasn't more done to prevent these things from happening?" One of the reasons why is that the legal system does not enforce a preventative approach to safety. Instead it's an approach that focuses on the consequences, it's a reactive position of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. And these reactive positions are invariably dependent on luck.

How lucky were the two apprentices in the incident described above? How lucky were the residents of the adjacent houses? And this is repeated in workplaces across the world, every day. People narrowly avoid being severely injured or killed by pure luck. Is the legal system responsible for this? Not solely, but it does go some way to explaining why business resist taking preventative action to avoid workplace injuries recommended by safety professionals. It does provide some explanation why regulators are unwilling to take more vigorous action to enforce the preventative expectations of safety law.

Tom Gardener has worked as a full time health and safety professional for more than 30 years in both government and private sectors. This has enabled him to gain a great deal of knowledge and experience in the practical management of health and safety in modern workplaces.

If you have a comment on this article or wish to read and/or comment on his other articles visit his blog at

Source: EzineArticles
Was this Helpful ?

Rate this Article

Article Tags:

Workplace Safety


Safety Law


Enforcing Safety




Health And Safety


Transporting Gas Cylinders

In India, employment opportunities are set to grow by a good margin in the coming year, a phase which was started in the turn of the second decade of the 21st century. organisation, candidates with

By: Sarkariexam l Business > Careers Employment l April 01, 2013 lViews: 11709

Sometimes it is amazing to see that certain jobs can precipitate huge turnouts in the recruitment drives. It is as if thousands of people were waiting for the vacancy advertisements and the moment

By: Sarkariexam l Business > Careers Employment l December 30, 2012 lViews: 690

In recent times, jobs in healthcare segments have grown tremendously. It is anticipated that this growth curve will continue for the times to come. Various factors are responsible for this

By: Sarkariexam l Business > Career Advice l December 27, 2012 lViews: 448

Are you in a dilemma whether to choose web based CRM or not? If yes, don’t worry. You aren’t the sole person having this doubt.There are numerous firms trying to make out whether investing in a

By: Reneta Vasileva l Business > Customer Service l December 23, 2012 lViews: 409

If you think about it you will realize the fact that each business has its own set of risks that are involved in it.The trade secrets that you have and the information related to the business is what

By: brumbrum1 l Business > Risk Management l December 23, 2012 lViews: 263

As the time is changing, concierge management services are now growing despite the slowing economies of the world. The main reason of it is the need that is highly specific to the people who like to

By: willsmith10 l Business > Management l December 23, 2012 lViews: 334

Over 33% of all major injuries reported each year are caused as a result of Slips or Trips and are the cause of over 10,000 serious injuries per year. The majority of Slips or Trips in the workplace

By: Nigel J Welfordl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 12, 2012 lViews: 219

Accident reporting is a fundamental requirement of any business and here we try and give a guide to business owners. All workplace accidents need be reported so they can be investigated to see if any

By: Nigel J Welfordl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 12, 2012 lViews: 253

Workwears are designed to offer maximum protection for you and your workers. But know this; you can optimize the benefits of these personal protective equipments even more.

By: Steven Michaelsl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 10, 2012 lViews: 209

There are many companies that make and sell safety awareness banners. We see a lot of great banners and an equal number of what we consider as poor quality banners. Sometimes, companies even try

By: Alan B Sudfeldl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 09, 2012 lViews: 192

A safety policy can set the direction for a SMS or be just a decoration on the reception wall. How to write a safety policy that works...

By: Dave S B Hughesl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 09, 2012 lViews: 232

As a business owner you have a legal duty to ensure the safety and security of your staff - including those that you may not see very often due to shift patterns or if they are visiting clients or

By: Nigel J Welfordl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 08, 2012 lViews: 232

A safety policy can set the direction for a SMS or be just a decoration on the reception wall. How to write a safety policy that works...

By: Dave S B Hughesl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 09, 2012 lViews: 232

iPhones and iPads and other such smart devices are all over the place these days and people seem to find new uses for them seemingly by the minute. A development over the past couple of years have

By: Dave S B Hughesl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 07, 2012 lViews: 207

Electric arcs however created, generate a lot of light some of which will damage exposed body parts such as skin and eyes. Electric arc welding is a common source of exposure to this damaging light

By: Dave S B Hughesl Business > Workplace Safetyl June 07, 2012 lViews: 385

Discuss this Article

comments powered by Disqus