We hear the terms ‘duty of care’ thrown around a lot these days. They appear in movies, sitcoms, billboard advertisements, contracts, loose-leaf pamphlets and even on product packaging. But what do they mean? As an employer, how does the implied duty of care apply to you?
Firstly, we need a working definition of what is meant by the implied duty of care. At its lamest, the duty entails employers undertaking actions to avoid foreseeable risks of injury befalling their employees. That’s it, it’s that simple. However, lets make it simpler by breaking the rule down into four easy to understand components or “sub-duties”
The duty to provide competent staff
One of the things that the implied duty of care requires employers to do, is to provide competent staff. Providing competent staff may mean:
- ensuring that all staff are properly trained in their respective roles;
- selecting and hiring competent staff with the necessary know-how and qualifications;
- warning, suspending or dismissing employees who engage in unsafe or dangerous conduct; and
- ensure that all employees are well aware of occupational workplace dangers.
The duty to provide a safe place to work
Hiring competent staff is only the first limb of the duty. The second limb of the implied duty of care mandates that the employer provide staff with a safe working environment. This involves not only making sure that the physical structures which make up the workplace are safe, e.g. buildings, restroom facilities, access passages, canteens etc. The duty extends to providing an environment that is free from harassment, intimidation, vilification and bullying.
The duty to provide proper and adequate materials
The third sub-duty that comes under the implied duty of care, which all employers must discharge, is the duty to provide proper and adequate materials. It is closely associated with the duty to provide a safe work place and demands that the employer maintain safe plant and equipment. Towards this end, the machinery must be regularly inspected, dangers identified and corrective action taken, where possible.
The duty to provide a safe system of work and supervision
Finally, an employer must coordinate work activities in such a way as to create a safe system of work. The system must be monitored and adequate supervision provided. What this entails will depend entirely upon the type of work being undertaken, the relevant skill of the employees and the broader factual circumstances. Ultimately, an appraisal will have to be made on a case-by-case basis.
Care to know more about the implied duty of care and your responsibilities under the same? Feel free to contact our team of highly experienced employment lawyers. We would be more than happy to assist you with any questions that you may have.