Safe Management of Public Facilities

The safe management of public facilities is critical in preventing harm to persons, property and the environment. Occupational Health and Safety (‘OHS’) legislation applies to public facilities that fall within the definition of a workplace. A workplace is defined to mean, a place, whether or not in a building or structure where employees or self-employed persons work.[1] However there are public facilities which do not meet this definition of a workplace and are outside the scope of OHS legislation. These facilities may lax in their management of safety. This may include facilities, such as recreational facilities, or other public facilities, in which employees or self-employed persons do not work. This article discusses other legal duties that may still apply in such facilities and some common risks to safety that may arise. Unsafe management of public facilities may result in a serious injury or death and or may give rise to personal injury claims under common law.

Duties

The Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994 (Vic) applies to facilities to ensure the risks arising from prescribed equipment are controlled. This legislation does not apply to a facility that meets the definition of a workplace under OHS legislation.[2] Proprietors of prescribed equipment, have a duty to take any measures that are practicable to ensure the equipment is safe and without risks to health when properly used.[3]

Prescribed equipment is defined under the Equipment (Public Safety) Regulations 2017 (Vic) to include the following equipment:

  • Non handheld or non-manually powered equipment that:
    • Cuts, drills, punches or grinds the material
    • Presses, forms, hammers, joins or moulds the material
    • Combines, mixes, sorts, packages, assembles, knits or weaves the material
    • Lifts or moves persons or material (subject to exceptions)
  • Pressure equipment
  • Tractors
  • Earthmoving machinery
  • Lasers
  • Scaffolds
  • Temporary access equipment
  • Explosive powered tools
  • Turbines
  • Amusement structures

Persons in charge of prescribed equipment have several duties, which include:

  • To take reasonable care for their own health and safety and of others affected by their conduct in relation to the equipment.[4]
  • To not wilfully or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything in the interests of health and safety or wilfully place at risk the health and safety of any person at the equipment site.[5]
  • To ensure when prescribed equipment is not in use, it is left in a state that does not create a risk so far as is practicable to any person.[6]
  • To notify the regulator immediately of a notifiable incident involving the equipment (incidents such as death, requiring medical treatment that meet the definitions under the regulations)[7]
  • To notify the regulator immediately of a dangerous occurrence involving the equipment (incidents such as overturning, fire, explosion, that meet the definitions under the regulations)[8]
  • To provide a record of the incident to the regulator for notifiable incidents and dangerous occurrences[9]
  • To ensure the incident site is preserved until authorised by the regulator for notifiable incidents and dangerous occurrences[10]

Facility owners also have duties under the Building Regulations 2018 (Vic) (‘building regulations’).

If dangerous goods are stored or handled on the premises, then further duties can also apply under the Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations (‘dangerous goods regulations’). The dangerous goods regulations do exempt non workplace facilities for compliance with the regulations for certain classes and quantities of dangerous goods.[11]

Health and Safety Risks

Facility owners should ensure any risks to health and safety are identified, assessed and controlled. The following are common examples of risks to health that may arise in public facilities. Note this is not an exhaustive list and the health and safety risks may vary depending on the nature of the facility.

Fire and Explosion

Fire and explosion is a critical risk which has the potential to cause multiple fatalities. Facility owners should ensure ignition sources are controlled near flammable and combustible materials. Essential safety measures should be implemented as per the requirements under the building regulations. Emergency exits should be unobstructed and marked.

Slips/Trips/Falls

Slips, trips, falls is a significant risk in public facilities which can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure the floor condition in pedestrian areas is maintained and free from tripping hazards. Common tripping hazards include uneven floors, damaged flooring, and obstructions on floor. The condition of any stairs and handrails should also be inspected and maintained to prevent falls. If tripping hazards are identified, facilities should ensure barricades or warning signage is used to control entry or warn persons of the tripping hazard(s). Facility owners should also ensure adequate lighting is implemented to prevent slips, trips and falls.

Object Falls from Height

Object falls from height is a significant risk which can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure all objects at height are secured, this may include objects such as lights, fixtures, or signage. Facility owners should regularly inspect their condition to ensure they do not fall and place persons at risk. Facility owners should also avoid storing heavy items at height. Where an object fall from height risk cannot be controlled through restraint, facility owners should ensure overhead structures or other control measures are implemented to manage the risk.

Hazardous Substances / Dangerous Goods

Exposure to hazardous substances and dangerous goods can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure any dangerous goods stored or handled on the premises is in compliance with the dangerous goods regulations where applicable. This may include requirements for manifest, spill containment, segregation, placarding and more. Facility owners should ensure Safety Data Sheets are available in the area where there is a risk of exposure to a hazardous substance or dangerous goods. Hazardous substances and dangerous goods should also be correctly labelled.

Falls From Height

Falls from above ground level can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should consider restricting entry to any areas above 2.2 metres to general persons. Where areas above 2.2 metres are required to be accessed, adequate edge protection should be implemented to prevent the risk of falls. Facility owners should avoid the use of any ladders by general persons.

Electricity

Exposure to electricity can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure the risks arising from electricity are identified and controlled. This includes testing and inspection of electrical cables. Facility owners should also ensure electrical equipment is stored and operated away from water or other liquid sources. Any faulty equipment should be identified and isolated away from use.

Prescribed Equipment

Facility owners should ensure they comply with their duties in relation to prescribed equipment. This includes ensuring prescribed equipment is fitted with guards and safety switches where required. Other hazards and risks arising from prescribed equipment should be controlled. Facility owners should have processes in place to comply with their duties in relation to notifiable incidents and dangerous occurrences.

Confined Spaces

Confined spaces can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure all confined spaces on the premises are identified and access is restricted to general persons. Signage alerting persons of confined spaces should be implemented upon entry.

Compressed Gas Cylinders

Compressed gas cylinders can cause a serious injury or death. Facility owners should ensure compressed gas cylinders are stored upright in well-ventilated areas and at least 3 metres from any combustible materials. Compressed gas cylinders should be secured with a chain or other means to prevent them from falling. Compressed gas cylinders should also be protected from impact where there is a risk. Storage and use of compressed gas cylinders should also comply with the dangerous goods regulations which prescribes requirements for segregation, placarding, manifest, spill containment, ventilation and more.

Compressed gas cylinders of class 2.1 or 2.2 dangerous goods, that form part of a welding set at a non-workplace facility, can be exempt from the dangerous goods regulations.[12]

Traffic Management

Serious injury or death can occur through a pedestrian and vehicle collision. Facility owners should ensure risks arising from traffic management are adequately controlled. Any pedestrian blind spot areas should be identified and controlled. The speeds of vehicles should be restricted using speed humps or other measures in car parks and other vehicle access areas. Traffic management signage such as speed limits, stop signage, give way, should be implemented in vehicle access areas.

Noise

Exposure to noise can cause a serious injury or hearing loss. Facility owners should ensure any noisy plant or equipment is isolated from persons or controlled to prevent hazardous noise exposure. Facility owners should consider conducting noise testing where there is uncertainty of hazardous noise exposure.

Ergonomics

Poor ergonomics can cause a serious injury. Poor ergonomics includes the use of high force or an environment which results in awkward postures. Facility owners should check and control jammed doors or other objects which may result in high force. Entry should also be restricted in low ceiling areas or other areas of compromised space which may result in awkward postures.

Emergency Management

Emergency management is essential for ensuring the safety of persons in public facilities. Facility owners should ensure they have systems in place to manage facilities in case of emergencies. The facility should have emergency procedures implemented, to evacuate the facility in case of an emergency. An audible warning alert  or other system should be implemented to alert persons in the facility in case of an emergency and enactment of emergency procedures. The facility should also be free from obstructions that may cause access issues for emergency services.

Conclusion

The safe management of public facilities that fall outside of the scope of OHS legislation can often be overlooked. It is critical facility owners are aware of the duties that can still apply in these circumstances. The unsafe management of public facilities can result in serious injuries, death or personal injury claims under common law. Facility owners should ensure a risk management program is implemented at the facility, which identifies, assess and controls any relevant hazards and risks.


[1] Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) section 5.

[2] Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994 (Vic) section 5.

[3] ibid section 7.

[4] ibid section 9(1).

[5] ibid section 9(2).

[6] Equipment (Public Safety) Regulations 2017 (Vic) section 36.

[7] ibid section 44.

[8] ibid section 45.

[9] ibid section 46.

[10] ibid section 47.

[11] Dangerous Goods (Storage and Handling) Regulations 2022 (Vic) section 2(j).

[12] ibid section 2(j).