It is often assumed that if employees possess proper qualifications that is enough to certify them as competent. The case of Comcare v Cleanaway Operations Pty Ltd (Acn 010 745 383) Transpacific Industries Pty Ltd  SAMC 54 (19 April 2021) proves this is not the case. This case highlights the consequences of relying solely on an employee’s qualifications to prove competency.
Cleanaway Operations Pty Ltd had engaged a worker to drive one of their tanker trucks. The employee had recently obtained his unrestricted heavy vehicle licence but had no practical experience driving a heavy manual vehicle. Cleanway had only tested his competency with automatic vehicles. Yet five days after he obtained his new licence, he was tasked with driving a tanker truck in Adelaide. The worker subsequently lost control resulting in a traffic accident with three other cars at an intersection.
Cleanaway was charged with 8 breaches under s 32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cth). Understandably they were found guilty of all charges because they had not certified him as competent to undertake the highly risky job. The Court determined that not only had Cleanaway failed to test competency, but they had failed in their safety obligations by providing no risk assessments, training or supervision.
It remains to be seen how much this mistake will cost them, but given the significant injuries to innocent bystanders there will be some substantial penalties.
Key Lessons for employers
- Do not rely solely on qualifications to check competency.
- For specialised work, ensure that the workers are sufficiently skilled and competent.
- Employers must ensure they have systems in place to satisfy them of workers’ competency before allowing them to complete specialised or high risk tasks without supervision.
- Always supervise employees before they are certified as competent.
Written by Nina Hoang