A review of Australia’s occupational health and safety laws has found that the laws are broadly working as designed, but has made 34 recommendations to enhance the legal framework — including tougher penalties for non-compliance.
The review, undertaken by Safe Work Australia, was publicly unveiled on 25 February, and has been given to relevant ministers for consideration.
“The model WHS laws are largely operating as intended, but I am recommending some changes to provide clarity and to drive greater consistency in the application and enforcement of the laws across jurisdictions,” the independent reviewer and author of the final report, Marie Boland, said.
“The three-tier legal framework is widely supported, and there is a view that it is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the evolving nature of work and changing work relationships.”
Among the recommendations put to political leaders are the development of regulations specifically covering psychological health, clarifying what is considered to be meaningful consultation, representation and participation, as well as an increase in penalties and the introduction of other measures to “strengthen the compliance and enforcement framework and enhance deterrence”.
Ms Bowland’s report also called for:
- Continuous assessment of new industries, hazards and working arrangements.
- The provision of practical examples to help employers engage with their workforces on matters of health and safety.
- New arrangements to allow for work groups within small businesses.
- The removal of 24-hour notification periods for entry permit holders.
- A review of incident notification provisions.
James Pearson, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that employer groups will be examining the recommendations closely.
“As a member of Safe Work Australia, the Australian Chamber has represented the views of employers throughout the review process,” he said.
“Most of Australia’s workplaces are small businesses and more Australians work in small businesses than in the public sector and larger business combined. So we welcome the recommendations aimed at improving the ability of small business to understand, interact with and implement WHS legislation.”
Mr Pearson said that the report “recognises that a small- or medium-sized business is not just a scaled-down version of a big business”.
“The recommendations consider separate processes for different-sized businesses including new arrangements for appointing health and safety representatives (HSRs) and work groups in small businesses,” he said.
“The recommendation for more practical and realistic guidance materials, an initiative that the Australian Chamber has championed, will help improve workplace safety.
“However, there could be unintended and significant consequences from some other recommendations, including:
• a broad review of the model WHS Regulations and Codes;
• higher penalties;
• consideration of an industrial manslaughter offence; and
• a prescriptive approach to psychological health”.
Mr Pearson added that it will take some time and consultation to fully analyse the potential implications of the recommendations, if they were to be implemented.
“Workplace safety is a shared responsibility. We will continue to work with our members, unions and regulators to improve the safety of Australian workplaces,” he said.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.