Labour and employment: workplace health and safety (WHS) in Australia
Ashurst provides leading workplace health and safety advice to an impressive client base consisting of both private and public sector clients, such as state and federal government agencies, major infrastructure projects, and energy and resources companies. The practice regularly acts on some of the most significant incidents in Australia, often involving fatalities and serious workplace accidents, appearing in prosecutions and inquests, as well as advising officers on personal liability. Advisory work is also a mainstay of the practice. The team is known for its advice on legal compliance and risk management. Practice head Lea Constantine remains highly active in investigations and is often called upon to lead on board-level advice to the practice's top clients. Highly active in the Brisbane office, James Hall is the go-to lawyer in the Queensland coal sector, while Trent Sebbens in Sydney is growing an active practice.
‘Strong technical knowledge, gets into the detail, takes time to understand business. The team you want for litigation.‘
‘Trent Sebbens – extremely detail orientated, gets into the nitty-gritty, will have all the technical aspects covered for any question. Fantastic availability and you feel like you are in a safe pair of hands when working with him; you know every angle will be covered.‘
Anglo American (Capcoal Management) Pty Ltd
Endeavour Energy Network Management Pty Limited
Lendlease Engineering Pty Ltd and Bouygues Construction Australia Pty Ltd Joint Venture
Port Kembla Coal Terminal Limited
- Acting for BOC in successfully defending a high profile prosecution for breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) relating to the death of a newborn baby and injuries sustained by another baby.
- Advising Lendlease Engineering Pty Ltd and Bouygues Construction Australia Pty Ltd Joint Venture on a fatality at its NorthConnex Project in May 2017.
- Advising Endeavour Energy Network Management Pty Limited on the employment, and health and safety aspects arising from the review and implementation of a revised drug and alcohol testing policy, including an arbitration before the Fair Work Commission.
Clyde & Co LLP
Clyde & Co LLP has one of the strongest WHS practices in Australia, and regularly attracts high-profile and complex work involving major health and safety incidents. The team combines impressive strength in handling disputes and investigations with a broad and sophisticated advisory capability, including carrying out large-scale safety audits and providing board-level governance advice and policy recommendations. Thanks to the firm's global relationship with top insurers, the practice is also regularly instructed to defend insured clients. Michael Tooma heads up the practice, and has recently been active in a number of high-profile incidents and investigations. Alena Titterton is another key name in this space, attracting a broad range of clients, both major companies and individuals, and recently advising on multiple incidents in the aged care service industry. In recent team news, Kiri Jervis, a workplace relations and dispute resolution specialist, was promoted to partner in May 2020. All named lawyers are based in Sydney.
Chubb Insurance Company of Australia – (Shire of Denmark)
- Acting as defence counsel for the Shire of Denmark in lengthy proceedings, finally appearing in the Industrial Appeals Court.
Herbert Smith Freehills
The highly recognised workplace health and safety practice at Herbert Smith Freehills is known for its impressive capability across the full range of work in this space. It combines strength in strategic advisory work with a first-rate reputation handling investigations, inquests, and WHS prosecutions carried out by the safety regulators. Also notable is the practice's broad, cross-sector client base, which includes multinational corporations, leading domestic businesses, and government agencies. Miles Bastick in Sydney heads up the firm's regional employment, industrial relations, and safety practice. The Melbourne-based Steve Bell is a national practice head of workplace health and safety, and regularly instructed on high-profile incidents and crises, and counts Victorian state government agencies as regular clients. The key name in Brisbane is Aaron Anderson, who is known in particular for his expertise in risk management and corporate governance arrangements. A younger lawyer with an active practice is Nerida Jessup, who was promoted to special counsel in Sydney in May 2020.
‘Genuine depth of both capability and size of the team. Genuine interest and passion for their subject area.‘
‘Nerida Jessup – responsive, commercial, and efficient. Great under pressure and in a crisis situation.’
‘The HSF health and safety team have taken the time to understand our business over many years. The team has provided excellent support to our business and has always gone above and beyond to be there whenever we have needed them.‘
‘Steve Bell is technically excellent, a very measured and considered communicator and fantastic support to our constantly changing business. Steve has excellent industry knowledge and always goes above and beyond; Steve thinks outside the box and has time and time again applied ingenuity to help support our continued drive to improve in the health and safety space.‘
‘Strengths in this area are the ability to communicate clearly and win trust across all levels of the organisation, from the board down, deep knowledge of the area, a willingness to implement alternative fee structures, and deep knowledge and understanding of our business. We have not used any other firm in this area and hence cannot compare – but we do not wish to use another firm in this area which speaks for itself.‘
‘Steve Bell is a calm and steady presence in a sensitive area. He is able to balance a legal approach with the empathy that we are determined to display when dealing with safety matters.‘
Australia Pacific Airports (Melbourne airport)
Ford Motor Corporation
- Acting for Victorian Government and Queensland Government as key strategic safety adviser over a range of government departments and infrastructure projects.
- Assisting BHP on a range of health and safety issues across BHP’s businesses, including advising senior managers and directors on their personal responsibilities.
- Acting for Impact Investment Group on a novel challenge to the validity of legal regulations, with significant industry impact.
Clayton Utz's national safety practice is known for its close collaboration with the firm's major projects department, which advises on some of the largest infrastructure projects in Australia. In this space, the safety practice is highly active in incident response, compliance, and WHS strategy, especially related to major projects in the energy and resources sector. Other areas of industry strength include the corporate, construction, and higher education sectors, as well as a growing client base in the tech sector. Saul Harben leads the workplace relations, employment, and safety national practice group from Perth. Brisbane-based specialist health and safety practitioner Shae McCartney leads the national WHS group, and is widely recognised for her involvement in major infrastructure and resource projects in Queensland.
Sun Metals Corporation (SMC)
Townsville Marine Logistic
Department of Transport and Main Roads
Queensland Government including Department of Transport & Main Roads, Department of Agriculture & Fisheries; Department of Natural Resources, Mines & Energy; Department of Environment & Science and Queensland Health
Cross River Rail Delivery Authority
Queensland Police Citizen Youth Welfare Association
ACT Government (Canberra Light Rail Project)
Brisbane City Council
Sun Metal Corporation (Korea Zinc)
Mackay Sugar Limited
Toshiba (Australia) Pty Ltd
- Advising the Department of Transport and Main Roads on a significant number of serious safety incidents including 22 vehicle rollovers and 100 notices on the completion of the Toowoomba Bypass; providing ongoing advice on the management of the State’s response to the performance of the contractor including developing and reviewing management plans, providing strategic advice, advising on regulatory compliance, responding to statutory notices, contractual claims and risk management.
- Advising Sun Metals Corporation on the $300m expansion of their refinery, providing contractor management, construction and procurement, safety and industrial relations advice to the business to help manage the construction during simultaneous operation of the refinery on site, including coordination between multiple parties and parcels of work.
- Advising DAF on a fatality of a worker in the shark control program, including representation in the Coronial investigation including the inquiry, AMSA and WHSQ investigation, advising on the program going forward including as a result of changes to the permitted method of control.
Since its founding in November 2019, specialist employment law firm Kingston Reid has been involved in a number of high-profile workplace incident investigations and coronial proceedings, as well as providing a board-level advisory service to clients for compliance and due diligence obligations. Key sectors for the team include construction, mining and resources, transport, health and aged care, and government. Practice head John Makris in Sydney has extensive experience dealing with regulators and investigations. The key name in Perth, especially for clients in the resources, maritime, and projects sectors, is Duncan Fletcher. Also in Western Australia, Michael Stutley is developing a strong practice handling the response to significant incidents and long-term policy development.
‘Duncan Fletcher (and his team) are industry leaders, have a good understanding of the business, provide pragmatic advice, and have strong technical knowledge. We have not had reason to use any other firms for advice on this area.‘
‘Pragmatic advice that takes into account commercial realities. Consistency in quality firm-wide.‘
‘Michael Stutley – responsive and pragmatic. John Makris – responsive, pragmatic, and unique ability to cut through to the key issues.‘
John Holland Group
McConnell Dowell Constructors
Fortescue Metals Group
VISA Global Logistics
Opal Aged Care
NSW Police Force
Transport for NSW
Fire & Rescue NSW
- Advising an ASX listed global construction company in relation to the WHS justifications to overturn a contract variation claim on a major infrastructure project.
- Advising an ASX listed global engineering company in relation to a serious workplace incident. We represented them in the regulatory investigation and in the current coronial proceedings.
- Providing occupational health and safety advice and strategy to Parenti Global in managing cross border flows of employees between home countries and sites during the COVID-19 pandemic
Maddocks' standalone work safety and people department is a recognised name in the market for the whole range of work in this space, from workplace fatalities and union-related safety disputes through to prosecutions, regulator actions, and inquests. The team is also active on the advisory side, drafting WHS policies and delivering training programmes. Other areas of strength include work in the public safety space, and advising clients in the emergency services and law enforcement sectors. Catherine Dunlop in Melbourne and Bruce Heddle in Sydney jointly head up the practice; both are highly active in litigation, for both private and public sector clients, and for regulators in prosecutions.
NSW Police Force
Metropolitan Fire Brigade
Victoria State Emergency Service
Commonwealth Bank of Australia
Ernst & Young
Domino’s Pizza Enterprises
Rail Control Systems Australia (RCSA)
Gordon Institute of TAFE
Western Sydney University
Swinburne University of Technology
Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE
University of Wollongong
Southern Cross University
University of New South Wales
The Bays Healthcare Group
The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network
St Luke’s Care
Nexus Day Hospitals
St Vincent’s Australia
The Ministry of Health
Western NSW Local Health District
Sydney Local Health District
South Eastern Sydney Local Health District
- Acting for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (regulator of the mining industry in NSW) in the prosecution of Peak Gold Mine. The prosecution arises out of the death of a contract worker who was working underground at the mine at the commencement of scheduled maintenance work on the mine’s ventilation system.
- Defending the Department of the Environment and Energy (Commonwealth) in a prosecution under the Work Health and Safety Act which is on appeal to the Supreme Court.
- Advised in the immediate aftermath of an incident involving the death of a council employee who fell from the back of a truck at Council’s depot and sustained serious head injuries, which involved advice on the investigations undertaken by Victoria Police, WorkSafe and the Coroner.
MinterEllison stands out for its industry sector expertise in areas including energy and resources, construction, education, government, and transport and logistics. The health and safety team's expertise spans advisory work and client training programmes through to incident support, handling investigations commenced by regulators, and representing clients in legal proceedings. The Brisbane-based Samantha Betzien, head of the national safety practice, is a recognised practitioner in Queensland, and is frequently involved in high-profile investigations into safety incidents. Other key practitioners in the team include Harriet Eager in Sydney, who combines WHS expertise with a broader employment law practice, and Craig Boyle, a highly active specialist in the Perth office whose practice involves advising major Western Australian clients in areas including construction, transport and mining.
Other key lawyers:
‘Depth of knowledge.‘
‘Samantha Betzien is an excellent lawyer who provides practical advice. She has an excellent understanding of the industry in which our company operates.‘
‘I feel comfortable picking up the phone and talking to the partners, who always get back to me if they are busy at the time.‘
‘Craig Boyle and Tom French who I have dealt with on difficult matters in the past, I feel, always provide honest advise in our best interest to ensure the best outcome for our company.’
Brookfield Global Integrated Solutions
Catholic Education Office
Energy Queensland Limited
Goodyear and Dunlop Tyres
- Representing Multiplex Constructions Pty Ltd in an external review of a prohibition notice issued under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act) in relation to the Jewel Project, Australia’ largest beachfront mixed-use development.
- Acting for Mount Isa Mines and its site senior executive in a prosecution under the Mining Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 in Queensland.
- Acting for an energy provider in relation to strategic risk management safety issues on the electrical services network.
Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Seyfarth Shaw LLP combines a strong domestic WHS practice with notable cross-border expertise. In addition to deep experience handling incident response, the team has expertise in a range of advisory areas, such as risk analysis, delivering training sessions and post-incident support. The team is jointly led by international employment law practitioner Darren Perry and Paul Cutrone, whose client base includes multinational companies and who has advised on a number of cross-border matters. Penny Stevens, who joined from Sparke Helmore Lawyers, heads the Melbourne practice. Another key name is Sarah Goodhew, who was promoted to partner in January 2020 and whose client base is made up predominantly of clients in the resources, retail and transport sectors. The practice has expanded with the addition of Marissa Dreher (counsel), Gina Carosi (senior associate) and Sam Gray (associate) who have joined the Melbourne WHS practice. Senior associate Sam Witton has left the practice.
Multinational telecommunications group
Global aerospace and defence group
- Advising a multinational telecommunications group on biosecurity legislation and pandemic response
- Advising on workplace incidents at client facilities, conducting mental wellbeing workshops and during the COVID-19 pandemic, helped them to develop a COVID safe plan for their workplaces
- Acting for Ingham’s and successfully defending, at contested hearing, four charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic).
Colin Biggers & Paisley
The national work health and safety group at Colin Biggers & Paisley is best known for its expertise in the construction, mining, education, and aged and community care industry sectors. In particular, team head Greg McCann is active in the mining space, recently having acted for a number of large national mining companies in response to fatal and serious incidents on mine sites. Megan Kavanagh is another partner with a health and safety practice, particularly in response to investigations.
Other key lawyers:
Clarence Coal Pty Ltd
- Acting for Clarence Coal Pty Ltd on the management of the response to a critical incident in the underground coal mine where two workers where contacted by falling coal and rocks whilst undertaking mining operations underground.
Corrs Chambers Westgarth advises both public and private sector employers on health and safety matters and investigations, especially clients drawn from the construction, retail, government and financial services sectors. The practice has also recently been involved in assisting clients with the workplace response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Melbourne-based John Tuck heads up the practice, and is a specialist in contentious workplace safety matters, often delivering board-level advice to major corporate clients. Special counsel Marie Costa is another name to note in Melbourne for specialist WHS advice.
‘The firm provides exemplary service from start to finish. They understand the client’s business, consistently achieving the client’s desired outcomes. Their expertise in WHS practice is evident from the first engagement with the client, inspiring confidence in the client.‘
‘I have had the pleasure to work with Marie Costa who inspired confidence from the date of engagement with her expertise in WHS practice and her proposed strategies. Her understanding of the client’s business was impressive and her dedication to achieving the best outcome for her client to be admired. Marie impressed with her exemplary client service, particularly making herself available to the client, often at short notice to attend stakeholder meetings. Impressively, she would respond to client queries while on leave. She has the unique quality of understanding the need to be responsive and inform the client of developments as they arise, particularly with outcomes of court hearings without delay.‘
Peak Gold Mines
Probuild Constructions (Aust) Pty Ltd
John Holland Group
- Advising Ferrovial on health and safety aspects of the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing Project, the largest infrastructure project in Queensland.
- Advising a number of Australia’s largest companies on their response and strategy in relation to the COVID-19 global pandemic. This included advice on maintaining operations for essential workers, managing vulnerable workers, health screening and temperature testing safety in returning to the workplace across a range of businesses in the Australian market.
- Acting for the Department of Defence in an investigation and prosecution whereby an Australian Army Cadet was seriously injured during a cadet activity.
King & Wood Mallesons
King & Wood Mallesons handles a wide range of work in the health and safety space, often working closely with clients in the energy and resource sector in workplace fatality matters. The team is also known for its board-level advice to a number of high-profile ASX-listed companies on WHS governance, including ensuring the client meets due diligence requirements for safety. The team is jointly led by dispute resolution specialist Philip Willox in Perth, who has experience handling major incidents, and Murray Kellock in Melbourne, whose practice spans WHS, employment and industrial relations law.
Other key lawyers:
Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet (NDIS scheme)
The Griffin Coal Company
Tronox Mining Australia Limited
National Australia Bank
The Star Entertainment Group
- Re-designing and enhancing the safety governance system for the AMP group.
- Advising Boyne Smelters following a serious incident at Boyne Smelter that was investigated by Work Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ).
McCullough Robertson maintains its growth on the eastern coast, and is known for its public sector work for state government departments in both Queensland and New South Wales. Other areas of strength include advising clients in the resources sector, especially following mining accidents, and supporting international clients establishing in Australia. Cameron Dean leads the practice from Brisbane and attracts a number of high-profile regional clients, while the Sydney practice is led by Scarlet Reid, who regularly acts for a broad governmental client base.
Australian Rail and Track Corporation Limited
ESCO Australia Holdings Pty Ltd
Copper Mines of Tasmania Pty Ltd
NSW Department of Planning and Environment
Rural Funds Management Limited
- Act for the Australian Rail Track Corporation Limited (ARTC) in relation to the February 2020 XPT derailment and double-fatality at Wallan, Victoria.
- Acting for ESCO throughout the investigation of a workplace fatality by the Mines Inspectorate, including by responding to requests for information and documents to ensure compliance and as part of protecting ESCO’s legal interests.
- Advising Copper Mines of Tasmania in relation to a number of proceedings arising out of two fatal incidents in December 2013 and January 2014 that resulted in the deaths of three workers at the Mt Lyell Copper Mine in western Tasmania.
Mills Oakley benefited greatly from the arrival of the 'extremely knowledgeable and experienced' Harold Downes to the Brisbane office from Herbert Smith Freehills in 2018, who brought deep experience in WHS work, especially in board governance and prosecution defence work. Also active are Ross Levin in Melbourne and Daniel White in Perth. A recent hire is Rachael Sutton, who joined the Sydney office from Holman Webb in October 2019 and has extensive experience in WHS, having acted for many years as a prosecutor for SafeWork NSW.
‘Harold Downes is approachable, helpful, extremely knowledgeable, and experienced within the construction industry safety sector. He has a broad network of contacts in the industry and the ability to use these networks to resolve conflicts/issues without incurring additional costs in court.‘
‘Good communication (easy to talk to) and a clear understanding of expectations.‘
‘Harold Downes has one of the clearest minds when it comes to workplace law and adjusts readily to changing legislation.‘
‘Mills Oakley has a small, closely-knit team that works very well under pressure. There is a palpable culture of excellence. I was particularly impressed by the team’s emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving rather than the blinkered approach other firms sometimes employ.‘
‘Harold Downes, the partner in charge of the WHS team, is one of the most impressive lawyers I have met. He has as good an understanding of WHS law as any lawyer (including a number of QCs) I know. His powers of legal and forensic analysis are formidable, indeed it is at times not easy to keep up with him. He genuinely cares for his clients. His attention to detail and client management skills are as good as any lawyer with whom I have worked. He is a very skilled negotiator and an exceptional case strategist. He remains calm under pressure. I was also impressed with his staff management skills. He struck me as being adept at getting the best out of his team, who impressed me as a very capable, happy, and diligent group. He provides leadership primarily by the excellent example he sets. I was also greatly impressed by Harold’s client management skills.‘
BHP for two of its line managers at Saraji Mine.
Brisbane Auto Recycling Pty Ltd
Australian Agricultural Company Ltd
Port of Brisbane
Container Exchange (Qld) Limited
- Defending two BHP line managers at the Saraji Mine in Queensland against allegations by the Resources Regulator of misleading conduct and breach of the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act.
- Acting for Brisbane Auto Recycling (BAR) and its two directors in the first industrial manslaughter (IM) prosecution in Australia being prosecuted under a WHS Act and the first category 1 convictions in Queensland.
- Acting for Abyss Demolition in relation to enforcement notices from the WHS Regulator.
Norton Rose Fulbright's workplace health and safety team is known for working closely with the firm's construction, engineering, and environment and planning teams to advise clients carrying out major infrastructure projects, particularly those in the transport sector. In addition to the defence of regulatory enforcement actions and criminal prosecutions, the department provides advisory support, training, and governance management systems. Sydney-based practice head Katherine Morris is a trusted advisor to major clients in the construction, transport, and energy sectors for both strategic and contentious matters.
Other key lawyers:
‘Nicki Millionis’ incredibly calm and professional approach brought significant stability and guidance to our business. She included OHS experts to provide high-level advice to a situation that was incredibly stressful. There was no doubt about Nicki’s depth of knowledge and experience in regards to all aspects of law for this field and this is one of the very reasons we choose a firm like NRF as they have always provided excellent advice.’
‘There’s no doubt a firm like NRF had the capacity, network, and resources to quickly react to a very tragic and difficult situation and was able to provide the advice and suggested pathway for the business to consider in managing the situation with the best interests of all in mind.’
Laing O’Rourke Australia
Saxon Energy Services Australia
Acciona Infrastructure Company
Department of Health and Human Services
- Advising Thales Australia on work health and safety obligations and technical requirements applying to electrical products and components of electrical products imported into Australia.
- Assisting Epic Energy with statutory and contractual WHS obligations and duties upon taking over technical management of the wind farms.