In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Victorian Government passed the Omnibus (Emergency Measures) and Others Act Amendment Act 2020 which temporarily enables WorkSafe inspectors to be appointed Authorised Officers under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (PHW Act).
This means that as of 21 October 2020, WorkSafe inspectors who are appointed as Authorised Officers will have legislated powers to enter a workplace to assess compliance with health and safety laws as well as to investigate, eliminate or reduce public health risks, such as assessing and enforcing workplace compliance with Victorian Pandemic Orders.
Inspector authorisation under the PHW Act is taken to expire when the Pandemic Declaration ceases to be in force.
The power of WorkSafe inspectors appointed as Authorised Officers
WorkSafe inspectors have the capacity to respond directly to identified breaches of Victorian Pandemic Orders and help ensure all workplaces are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
In addition to WorkSafe inspectors' usual powers, under the PHW Act, for the purpose of investigating eliminating or reducing the risk to public health, WorkSafe inspectors appointed as Authorised Officers, will also have the authority to:
- enter a premises without warrant and search for and seize anything necessary
- require the provision of information
- require a person to provide their name and address
- inspect any premises where the risk to public health may be spread
- require cleaning
- give directions to owners or occupiers of that premises to take action to eliminate or reduce the risk
More information on workplace inspectors general powers is available.
Obligations on inspectors and Authorised Officers
WorkSafe inspectors and Authorised Officers carry an official identification card. If a WorkSafe inspector is also an Authorised Officer, they will carry both identification cards. They must show this identification, if asked to do so, when performing a function or when exercising a power.
When WorkSafe inspectors or Authorised Officers enter a workplace, they will take all reasonable steps to announce their entry to the employer or occupier (eg person with management or control of the workplace) and relevant HSRs.
WorkSafe may obtain information about a potential breach of Victorian Pandemic Orders by observation and enquiries during their attendance at a workplace or during enquiries made remotely, including where a member of the public has reported a potential breach.
To assist this assessment, WorkSafe inspectors receive training that sets out key issues to look for in the workplace, specific to the Victorian Pandemic Orders.
If an inspector forms a reasonable belief that OHS laws have been contravened, for example, a breach of the Victorian Pandemic Orders to maintain physical distancing, undertake cleaning or have a COVIDSafe Plan in place, the inspector can take action to ensure the contravention is remedied by the duty holder.
The inspector can do one or more of the following:
- get immediate voluntary compliance and take no further action
- issue an improvement notice requiring the contravention to be fixed by a certain date
- issue a prohibition notice where there is an immediate risk and the activity must stop until the risk is removed
- direct that a certain action be taken where an immediate risk exists, or if the inspector deems this appropriate
WorkSafe inspectors who are Authorised Officers will also have the ability to:
- refer breaches of the Victorian Pandemic Orders to the Department of Health and Human Services for a possible infringement notice
WorkSafe inspectors who are Authorised Officers will inform you of which powers they are exercising and under which Act.
Failure to comply with an Authorised Officer
Unless a person has a reasonable excuse, they must not refuse or fail to comply with a direction or requirement by an Authorised Officer exercising their powers under the PHW Act.
Persons who refuse or fail to comply without a reasonable excuse may be subject to an infringement notice or other enforcement measures.