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January 2020

Unsafe work practices can be grounds for dismissal

Unsafe work practices can be grounds for dismissal

The Case

BlueScope Steel Limited T/A BlueScope Steel Limited Springhill Works v Mr Zaki Habak (2019)

BlueScope Steel Limited (BlueScope) employed Mr Habak for 39 years. For 28 of those years, he performed the role of a crane operator. On 8 December 2018, while performing his role, Mr Habak dropped a 12-tonne coil into a walkway. Fortunately, no one was hurt and there was no damage to property. However, BlueScope terminated Mr Habak’s employment on the grounds that he had breached a critical safety policy. This was a policy that Mr Habak had repeatedly breached.

Mr Habak made a claim for unfair dismissal in the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The Verdict

At first instance, the FWC held the dismissal was unfair because:

  • Mr Habak had a satisfactory employment record during his 39 years of service;
  • Mr Habak had limited options for future employment given his age;
  • no one was hurt and no property damage occurred; and
  • BlueScope had not dismissed other employees in similar circumstances.

BlueScope successfully appealed the decision to the Full Bench of the FWC, which upheld the dismissal as valid on the basis that:

  • the gravity of what had occurred, and potential for injury/death and damage to property, outweighed all other considerations;
  • Mr Habak had wilfully breached the critical safety policy on more than this occasion; and
  • BlueScope had afforded Mr Habak procedural fairness.

The Lessons

If an incident is serious enough, then it can support grounds for dismissal even for long-serving employees. This case demonstrates the importance of making employees familiar with workplace policies and procedures, providing training, and imposing disciplinary consequences if those policies are breached.

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