Beyond Slip, Slop, Slap for Local Councils

Holly Howison writes:

While beaches are one of the most popular areas for fun, recreation and tourism in Australia, especially with the onset of summer, beaches can often present a myriad of safety risks for local councils with control of beach areas. Each state and territory of Australia imposes duties of care on local councils in relation to ensuring the health, safety and welfare of both its employees, including council workers designated to beach areas and non-employees, including members of the public, surf life saving organisations and various contractors engaged to undertake works at the beach site.

As part of any local council’s duty of care potential risks to health, safety and welfare of employees and other persons must be identified and assessed and then measures implemented to either eliminate or control those risks. Key OHS risks in a beach environment include:

  1. injuries sustained by members of the public in the water and surrounding park areas;
  2. injuries sustained by workers and contractors undertaking maintenance and cleaning activities, including maintenance of footpaths, walkways and access areas to and from the beach;
  3. exposure to UV by workers/contractors;
  4. assault and violence by members of the public against council employees/contractors; and
  5. use of unsafe plant and equipment.

Local councils must implement, develop and review on an ongoing basis proper OHS Management Systems to manage safety in the beach environment and minimise the potential exposure to liability under the relevant OHS legislation. Such Systems must include comprehensive policies and procedures relating to both general and specific OHS issues, including training for council workers in relation to OHS risks and the application of the OHS Management System. To support the OHS Management System, a robust program of risk management must also be implemented and reviewed by the local council to identify and assess risks in the beach environment and in relation to beach activities. Such a program would include a full beach safety audit and development of a beach safety strategy in consultation with the relevant Surf Life Saving organisation. Safety at the beach extends beyond Slip, Slop, Slap for local councils with employees and other persons potentially exposed to an array of risks.

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