The Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has provided clarification on when an employee can be dismissed for a safety breach. The case involved an employee who was dismissed after he operated a crane inconsistently with the company’s safety procedures, causing damage to a steel coil and creating a risk that a steel coil could have tipped. Whilst successful at first instance, the employees claim of unfair dismissal was ultimately refused. The FWC found that a safety breach is a valid reason for dismissal. The employee submitted that as there was no safety risk as no people were around. However, the FWC took a wide interpretation and found that no actual risk of injury to a person is required for there to be a safety breach. The FWC also discussed the safety culture of the business. For the dismissal to be valid the employee must have been notified of and understood the relevant safety requirement. It is also relevant to consider whether the business enforces safety standards. In this instance the dismissal was valid as there was a safety procedure policy, the employee had undertaken recent training on the policy and the employee had been subject to disciplinary action for safety concerns in the past.
It is vital for employers to have clear safety procedures documented and to ensure employees are aware of and adequately trained in safety protocols. As well as creating serious safety risks, a failure to do so may expose employers to findings of unfair dismissal where an employee is dismissed for a safety breach. Contact M+E for more information on employment rights.