Fair Work Commission Full Bench Supports Employer To Make Changes To Safety Culture

Published 22 March 2016

The decision of a Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in Metro Quarry Group Pty Ltd v Ingham [2016] FWCFB 47 (MQ case) illustrates the difficulties an employer may face in improving its safety culture but emphasises the level of support an employer is likely to receive from the FWC for making such a change. Whilst the decision relates to the safety culture in a quarrying operation, the principles are equally relevant to all Australian businesses.

ISSUE

Metro Quarry (MQ) operates a sand mining operation in the South Gippsland region of Victoria and a sand distribution business on the south eastern outskirts of Melbourne. MQ acquired the operations from a previous owner in 2013. In doing so, MQ also acquired a “lackadaisical” safety culture with numerous compliance issues (as asserted by the MQ owner, referred to [at para 6]). The culture and historical issues inherited by MQ were evidently of significant concern to MQ. Indeed, in 2010 an employee was killed while operating an excavator.

After the acquisition of the business in 2013, MQ took steps to change the culture, putting in place a new management team and creating a new safety manager role to embed best safety practices in the business. Relevantly to the issues in the case, in doing so MQ established new safety polices including policies relating to personal protective equipment (PPE) and zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol and hardened its position towards continued breaches of safety policy or expected safe behaviours.

The relevant employee in the MQ case was employed as a maintenance worker and had been working in the business for over ten years.

MQ formed the view that the employee was not prepared to adjust to the new safety culture and terminated his employment summarily and without notice. The employee brought an unfair dismissal claim in the FWC challenging MQ’s decision.

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