On November 29, 2014, all Australian citizens living in Victoria over the age of 18 will hit the polls to take part in the state election. While the candidates running for office haven’t made workplace health and safety a major issue in their running platforms, that doesn’t mean organisations and citizens in Victoria aren’t concerned.
The Australian Industry Group, otherwise known as AIG, issued their pre-election statement for this voting cycle on November 2. This is a report that the group submits before each round of voting in hopes of influencing candidates running for office. The report contains a variety of recommendations for the government soon to take office, including issues related to state-based taxes, regulatory reform, state holidays and employment trends in specific industries.
The pre-election statement issued for this year’s candidates in Victoria includes some strong recommendations for employment in the construction industry. It also contains some recommendations related to workplace health and safety.
Spotlight on the Economy
The AIG spared no time digging into highlighting what the group believes is a major obstacle for Victoria: the struggling economy. The report states that prices are high and productivity in the region is low, creating a difficult economy for Victorian residents. At least part of the blame for this is placed on the closing of the automotive industry which previously kept the economy in Victoria quite strong.
In order to strengthen the economic conditions in Victoria and bring more businesses into the area, the AIG recommends that the incoming government consider taking the following steps:
- Reduce taxation
- Reduce business regulation
- Invest more in infrastructure
- Encourage innovation
- Take action to increase worker skills
- The AIG believes that the new Victorian government can reduce the cost of operating a business in Victoria by reducing taxes and easing regulations placed on businesses. They recommend more investment in infrastructure and a focus on innovation and skill enhancement because it might increase business productivity in the region.
These recommendations will have an impact on all industries operating out of Victoria, and that includes industries bound by strict health and safety guidelines.
Recommendations for the Harmonised OHS laws
The AIG also recommended that the new Victorian government commit to the Harmonised OHS laws, stating that they can help reduce the cost of business. This refers to the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety which was signed by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008. The goal was to enact one health and safety code for all Australian governments, ensuring that businesses and workers enjoyed the same protections regardless of where they lived and worked.
One of the reasons given by the Council of Australian Governments for harmonising the OHS laws throughout Australia was to reduce “compliance and regulatory burdens for businesses operating across State and Territory boundaries.” Since the AIG is calling for the new Victorian government to reduce the cost of business in order to spark more economic activity, it makes sense that they would encourage the state to agree to the harmonised laws in order to reduce regulation pressure on businesses.
To date, the Victorian government has refused to agree to the harmonised occupational health and safety laws because of the expense. The government viewed a report presented by PricewaterhouseCooper regarding the expense of initiating the changes and determined that the benefits would not justify that expected expense.
There is one more major criticism against the harmonised laws which may have impacted the state’s decision not to commit: there aren’t too many Australian businesses operating in multiple states and territories. Statistics were used to show that most business operate in just one state or territory, so they won’t benefit much from standardised laws that apply to all states equally.
Mark Goodsell, Director – NSW of the AIG, is now pointing out that the logistics industry was not included in the statistics used in that big criticism of the harmonised laws. He points out that that logistics industry includes many businesses that operate in states throughout Australia, but those businesses may have headquarters in only one state. He reasons that these companies would benefit tremendously from harmonised OHS laws throughout all states and territories, since they operate vehicles in all regions of the country.
Will the New Victorian Government Conform to Harmonisation?
Joining the rest of Australia in the commitment to the harmonised OHS laws was just one recommendation presented in the lengthy AIG pre-election statement. While members of the new government have made no mention of workplace health and safety laws through their campaigning efforts, only time will tell whether they are paying attention to these recommendations and whether they will take action to bring Victoria on board with the commitment to harmonisation.
Victoria does have a good worker’s compensation plan in place, and many of the workplace health and safety laws in the state are well-developed and effective. Yet, the AIG argues that harmonising with the rest of Australia will help the state make a comeback as a leader in this important industry.
Mark Goodsell notes that the state was once a leader in OHS but has recently slipped from that position because the government is out of the loop in terms of harmonisation. He states that the states and territories already committed to the agreement are working together to create the best OHS laws possible, but the Victorian government has been left out of those negotiations due to its stance against the harmonisation project.
As Victorian residents hit the streets to vote for their preferred stated candidates on November 29, many of them may not think much about occupational health and safety laws. That doesn’t mean that the candidates they vote for won’t take a position for or against the harmonisation of OHS laws after they take office.
Residents concerned can look up their candidate’s previous statements and political actions to determine whether they have taken a stance on one side or the other on this issue.
Starting January 1, the states WHS Act 2012 took over where the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act 1986 left off. This change means that SA has joined NSW, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory in their adoption of the OHS Harmonisation laws.
SafeWork SA acting director Robin Scott reports that the new legislation will basically be aligned with existing requirements resulting in a minimal impact on businesses throughout the state.
Those within the OHS community have been in deep discussion over the passing of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) bill through the South Australian Parliament. Despite the bill reaching the committee stage (and thus requiring a third reading), some speculate that the WHS bill will fail to be enacted into law.
On September 6, Russell Wortley commented “There has been a lot of fear mongering about the effects of these laws. I want to assure honourable members that these fears are misguided and, sadly, often based on misinformation from lobby groups with a particular self-interest in seeing this legislation defeated.”
Wortley believes that not passing the bill will lead to a limited safety infrastructure and limited safety measures between the employer/employee. He stated that not passing the laws would mean that SA workers will have lower safety standards than those in other states throughout AUS.
Wortley stated that many of the Housing Industry Association’s predicted costs of passing the bill include costs for items that are not mandatory under the WHS bill (future or current). Other costs put forth by the HIA are for items or materials that are currently included in safety measures enacted throughout SA and as such should not be considered additional charges.
Wortley believes HIA’s actions as an effort to gain political and media attention instead of an effort to provide a detailed analysis.
Half a year after the Federal Government had hoped that the OHS Harmonisation laws would be implemented, the State Government is gathering public consensus on the costs and benefits.
WorkSafe WA Commissioner Lex McCulloch stated that harmonised OHS laws would affect all WA workplaces on various levels. Thus the board believes that a consultation process will allow them to consider how the new laws will affect the public.
Six months after the Federal Government had hoped that uniform laws would be in place, the State Government is seeking public comment on the costs and benefits.
In 2010 an Australia-wide consultation process took place however, the current consultation period is meant to specifically gauge how WA workplaces feel about the OHS Harmonisation Laws.
WorkSafe appointed Marsden Jacob Associates as the ones who will conduct the two-month consultation process to gauge the potential pros and cons of the proposed OHS Harmonisation laws to the WA public.
An information campaign will be in operation nd six public forums will also be held in regional WA.
The new Australian Occupational Health and Safety Harmonisation or OHS Harmonisation laws include a series of changes to the old laws. Breaches of legislation can result in fines in excess of $ 500,000 or even imprisonment for five years for corporate or individual executives.
The changes were officially implemented in January of this year in; NSW,Queensland,The Commonwealth, and the Northern Australia.
Senior Managers and Directors who have a desire to stay clear of penalties (whether it be financial or to their reputation) should be mindful of the following important aspects of the OHS Harmonisation laws.
a) A “Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking” or a PCBU, is the one who is chiefly responsible for upholding OHS standards— this does not necessarily mean the “employer”. An individual or a corporate body can be considered PCBU since they operate a business or duty alone or with other PCBUs.
b) “Duty of care” now includes a more diverse group of individuals including workers and “any other person” whose safety is at risk because of the business activities of the PCBU. Someone is referred to as a worker whether they are employed or a volunteer. This means that incidents that once fell under public liability laws and negligence can now be prosecuted under the new OHS laws.
c) The term “ Officers’ refers to Directors and managers and these individuals are personally obligated to use their best efforts to ensure that the company stays within the boundaries of OHS Harmonisation laws. This is referred to as “Due Dilligence” and includes the following duties:
- Gather and uphold current safety knowledge
- Gain an understanding of the various business risks
- Deliver and implement the proper resources
- Maintain legal compliance with OHS laws.
- Verify compliance and safety standards by conducting frequent and thorough audit and review processes.
Duty Holder(s) (If there indeed more than one) of OHS must ensure that they work together in collaboration and cooperation to ensure that all responsibilities related to OHS legislation are upheld.
The OHS Harmonisation laws recommend that organisations conduct an audit of current processes,safety policies, and contracts. The audit will determine and identify the proper steps needed in order to comply with the new OHS Harmonisation laws. Under these new laws; rules pertaining to personal liability need to be explained clearly to all officers to ensure that breaches are limited.
It is also encouraged to implement due-diligence practices throughout the entire company to ensure that safety measures are upheld.
Minister for Finance and Services,Greg Pearce announced plans to fast track vital reforms that are needed in WorkCover and the Compensation Authorities. This announcement comes after both Greg McCarthy and CEO Lisa Hunt resigned from their positions.
Pearce stated that his belief that when one considers the current “untenable” scheme of WorkCover, coupled with a growing deficit; it is clear that WorkCover must be reformed.
McCarthy and Hunt allegedly both supported a need for reforms and now the government has decided to move ahead with new reforms under new leadership.
The OHS Harmonisation reforms will be fast-tracked with Deputy Chair, Nicholas Whitlam, and current Chief Financial Officer, Julie Newman. Until replacements are appointed, Newman will be acting as CEO, and Whitlam as Chair. McCarthy has throughout the years, developed various reform options, one of which is the merging of WorkCover and four other compensation authorities; the Motor Accidents Authority, Dust and Diseases Tribunal, Sporting Injuries Committee and Lifetime Care and Support Authority. McCarthy believed the merger of these organisations would be the most economically viable way of ensuring savings.
McCarthy was a vital member of the Board of WorkCover for ten years, where he reportedly worked tirelessly on developing reforms to improve the scheme of WorkCover.
Hunt was CEO since 2010, where she was instrumental in pushing for changes in the workplace by implementing a new Work, Health and Safety regime.
The meeting was held in Melbourne to discuss workplace health and safety issues with Workplace Relations minister Bill Shorten MP, representatives from Safe Work Australia and; the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations. Also included were a diverse group of representatives from various not-for-profit organisations.
An important revelation from the meeting is the plan to establish a group to oversee measures to cut red tape of working with volunteers. The plan is to have a group comprised of representatives from the not-for-profit sector, Volunteering Australia, Safe Work Australia, legal experts and various other industry representatives.
To add to these outcomes, the table of representatives discussed and agreed on various matters pertaining to volunteers, such as;
- Safety is of equal importance for volunteers as any other individual since everyone has a right to return home safe.
- A volunteer’s duty has gone relatively unchanged when comparing it to what it was prior to the OHS Harmonisation laws.
- The penalties that would be used for extreme actions are based on already established state laws that existed prior to harmonisation.
- Ongoing efforts to provide increased clarity of the harmonised law’s limited practical consequences for grassroots volunteers are most welcome.
Shorten stated that the Government encourages people to volunteer and support each other’s community. He alleges that the Government will provide “even more clear information and guidance to volunteers who play such an important role in [everyone’s] communities”
Safe Work Australia has responded to media reports that they’ve labeled “inaccurate and alarmist”. The media reports are regarding volunteers and the OHS Harmonisation or Work Health and Safety laws.Safe Work is concerned that the reports may discourage volunteers and future volunteers from undertaking work.Chair of Safe Work, Tom Phillips stated that the harmonised OHS laws would not apply to every type of volunteer activity or organisation.
Phillips stated that the laws only apply if the volunteer organisation also employs staff ( in conjunction with volunteers) to carry out work for the organisation. Phillips stated that this stipulation is not new since even the old legislation specifically applied to volunteer.Phillips continued, stating that the duty to ensure a safe workplace remains the primary responsibility of the employee, not the volunteer.
Chief Executive of Volunteering Australia, Cary Pedicini stated his organisation’s support for the OHS harmonisation laws.
Pedicini claims that the harmonisation with result in a higher level of protection for volunteers wherever they decide to volunteer, which Pedicini states is a good thing for volunteers.
In related news, Ordained ministers will no longer be considered simply as “servants of God” according to the OHS harmonisation. Instead they will be known as “workers” who can thus be prosecuted for safety breaches in the church.
Naturally, the changes have alarmed some religious organisations because they also mean that many elderly church volunteers can now be prosecuted for safety breaches and subsequently face fines of up to $300,000 or five years imprisonment.
The OHS Harmonisation laws will not affect local football clubs and other organisations that rely solely on the devoted volunteers.Organisations such as Uniting Church and Meals on Wheels are allegedly concerned with the new occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, which are being implemented nationally this year.
Safe Work Australia chair Tom Phillips stated that not all volunteer organisations should be concerned with the new laws since they may not apply to each respective organisation.
According to Phillips, the laws will apply if an organisation employs staff in conjunction with volunteers and where work is carried out on behalf of the organisation.The new laws, Phillips says, will not affect community groups or football clubs which do not have employees.
It is the workplace’s responsibility to ensure the safety of workers – and thus, not the volunteer’s responsibility. Phillips continued by stating that prosecution of volunteers is unlikely to occur except in the most serious and exceptional circumstances.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard claims that the government will be taking a commonsense approach in the implementation of the national occupational health and safety reforms. Gillard stated that volunteer organisations will go out of their way to make sure that volunteers are kept safe.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has warned of the possibility of the Commonwealth withholding $450 million in reward payments for the states and territories that are stalling on reforms for Occupational Health and Safety Laws ( OHS Harmonisation).The failure of the states to implement the OHS laws after a year of delays, was costing the country approximately $43 million a week.
Shorten stated that Victoria and Western Australia had made it disturbingly clear that they wanted no involvement in the national OHS harmonisation.Shorten continued by stating that you can’t be a part of the nation of Australia for some aspects but opt out other times for “petty political reasons”.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon stated that state governments cannot sign off on certain agreements and then not live up to their end of the deal. Roxon believes that the Commonwealth is completely justified in refusing to make reward payments if aspects of national agreements were not met .
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has accused PM Gillard of singling out states lead by coalition governments.
Since July, 2008 the Commonwealth, states and territories all agreed to a harmonisation of OHS laws. The laws were expected to be implemented by December 2011 but various state governments delayed the process.
The ACTU is pushing for workers to take advantage of the new safety laws by adopting safety representatives. The ACTU also stated that the rumour that workplaces can be shut down due to concocted safety claims, is false.
A “Speak Up” campaign has commenced following the implementation of the nationally harmonised occupational health and safety laws( OHS Harmonisation). The campaign was initiated with the intent of ensuring workers understand their rights, which includes their right to elect their own safety representatives.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick stated that it was unlawful for employers to interfere with the work of health and safety representatives or to hinder their responsibility of representing their workmates.
Borowick stated that it is not compulsory to have a safety representative but the opportunity exists if workers feel the desire to take advantage of that opportunity.Previously, Health and safety representatives had limited powers to dictate directives when workers were endangered.Victoria and WA have yet to come to an agreement regarding the harmonised safety laws; while SA and Tasmania are still discussing the proposal in parliament.
The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 has just been approved and released by the NSW Government. The regulations of course, are pertaining to the OHS Harmonisation Laws; more formally known as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Despite a series of obstacles, NSW has released a finalised and detailed list of regulations that fall under the WHS Act. Some aspects of the regulations pertain to the duties of officers. This includes the duty to provide First Aid in the event of an emergency. Other duties include; the duty to provide, maintain, and implement an emergency plan.. The Danger of breaching the OHS Harmonisation laws can be avoided if one simply follows the detailed regulations.
However, It is important not to be complacent and subsequently neglect some other requirements , since all requirements carry penalties. For example, the aforementioned duty to provide, maintain, and implement an emergency plan might not seem as important as Working At Heights Safety,–however, this duty is just as important, if not more. One random breach in WHS could result in the accidental death of an employee; but the lack of a quality emergency plan can result in the deaths of many if not all employees. The guidelines for Emergency plans are as follows:(1) A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure that an emergency plan is prepared for the workplace, that provides for the following:
(a) emergency procedures, including:
- an effective response to an emergency, and
- evacuation procedures, and
- notifying emergency service organisations at the earliest
- opportunity, and
- medical treatment and assistance, and
- effective communication between the person authorised
- by the person conducting the business or undertaking to
- coordinate the emergency response and all persons at the
-(Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011)
The Maximum penalty: for an individual officer is set at $6,000, but if a corporation is at fault, they would face a penalty of $30,000. The importance in mentioning this regulation lies in the fact that many managers might now be considered safety officers and could thus be liable for any breaches under the WHS act without even knowing it. The entire document includes information regarding liability, the types of safety officers, the various types of breaches as per industry among many other specifics.
Code of Practice
Various drafts of the Model Codes of Practise have been released and more are expected to follow. Many are specific to each respective industry; however, three specifically affect everyone. These include “How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks”, “How to Consult on Work Health” and finally, “Managing Work Environment and Facilities”
The Codes are intended for practical uses and are very important in ensuring the day –to-day management of workplace safety. However, the codes can also be used as evidence by the court to indicate what is known about a hazard or risk, and determining what is in fact, practical. Despite this, they are not mandatory as an employer can ensure compliance with the WHS ACT and Regulations by following an alternative method.
What Happens if you breach the WHS regulations?
The accompanying Issues Paper laid out various offences and the potential financial penalties for each. Right now the maximum monetary penalty for breaching the WHS act for standalone corporate offenders is $30,000. However, there is a possibility that this will be increased or even doubled.
The Model Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations are expected to come into effect across Australia in January 2012,
The OHS Harmonisation laws could not come at a more appropriate time following a growing trend of work place deaths. With over 25 in total thus far, Victoria is home to 9 of them. With OHS Harmonisation, workers will have the right to refuse or cease any conduct which they feel would endanger their safety.
An employment lawyer has warned that managers at the forefront could potentially be at risk of prosecution for Work Health and Safety (WHS) breaches if the OHS Harmonisation laws commence on January 1, 2012.
The OHS Harmonisation laws will comprise of broader meanings of ‘officer’ responsible for workplace safety. Harsher penalties will apply if an officer fails to comply.
Lisa Berton, a partner for Kem Strang, stated that as a result of the new WHS laws; employers will have to recognize an ‘officer’ within an organization, and make compliance a top priority. Berton, warned that the broader definition of an ‘officer’ potentially means that more employees could be held responsible for workplace safety.
Kemp Strang also recommended that businesses identify who the officers are before training is provided to accountable people under the legislation.
The OHS Harmonisation laws include new definitions of due diligence. This means that officers will have to have updated knowledge of WHS matters, understand dangers and risks of the business and minimise or eradicate them, as well as having a proper system in which information can be received and permit a timely response to incidents.
Berton warned that officers must avoid complacency in ensuring that all due diligence requirements are complied with.
Penalties for breaching officer’s duty can result in a fine of $600,000 and/or five years incarceration.
ComOps, a business solutions company, have published a press release regarding the expectations of business owners over the Work Health and Safety Act or OHS Harmonisation laws. The survey indicated that Australian managers are strongly convinced that the OHS harmonisation would positively impact operational sustainability and the organization at large. 87 percent of all managers believe the OHS Harmonisation laws would be a positive influence on business;, 68 percent of participants have indicated that the OHS harmonisation would finally achieve a true harmonisation of the WHS laws governing Australia. Three-fifths of the participants have also expressed support for the personal liability provisions.
Propose of Harmonisation
The OHS Harmonisation was developed in order to lower the potential for risks while at the same time increase accountability and visibility into workplace safety practices within businesses. A key aspect to the laws is to put into effect a legislation that would improve the quality of; transparency, communication, and reporting for each business. Business owners, executives and other managers will find their job obligations to be more concise, yet clearly defined.
The survey also provided information indicating that almost three-quarters of those surveyed, believed that creating the right culture in the business is of most importance. 68 percent of participants have already prepared their practices and systems well in time for the new legislation to commence.
However, 18 percent of participants stated their need for half a year or a whole year in order to achieve the necessary requirements under the OHS Harmonisation laws.
The survey was conducted at the Safety Show Sydney 2011 with the involvement of 218 professionals.More than a quarter of the participants represented organisations that employee over 1000 workers.
The Opposition for the Northern Territory claims that the NT WorkSafe is not properly equipped to police occupational health and safety legislation to meet a national agreement.The Opposition stated that the OHS Harmonisation had not yet been agreed by South Australia, WA, Victoria, or Tasmania, yet the Territory was rushing to meet the January, 2012 deadline.Shadow A.G John Elferink is concerned about unions granted ability of entry and civil prosecutions that could occur under the OHS Harmonisation laws. He stated that the laws do not protect the right to silence
However, he says that the organisation, WorkSafe, is not prepared for the job.Elferick stated on record his concern over the abilities of the Northern Territory’s WorkSafe because, as he stated, the organisation is in a “state of decay”. Thus he is not confident in their abilities to effectively police the legislation.Business spokesperson for the Opposition, Dave Tollner, stated that NT WorkSafe does not have any concern for the well-being of business owners.
He believes that NT WorkSafe is “contaminated with union members in the NT. Tollner expressed his disappointment that NT WorkSafe is not entirely focused on workplace safety, rather, they are focused on providing a good spot for “washed-out” union officials
The Treasurer stated that anti-union criticism of OHS laws were wrong in the past, and the Liberals oppose the OHS Harmonisation laws because they have an aversion to unions.
The Queensland Parliament has approved several aspects of the occupational health and safety harmonisation laws ( OHS harmonisation laws). The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act was approved albeit with minor changes that would enable it to function in accordance with Queensland jurisdiction. The Work Health and Safety Regulation was approved on November 24,2011. Significant pieces of legislation are as follows:
- Confined Spaces;
- Hazardous Manual Tasks;
- Work Health and Safety Risks;
- Asbestos Awareness in the Workplace
- Asbestos Removal
- Dangerous Chemicals labeling
- Noise Control and Hearing Loss
- Working at Heights safety
The WHS regulations will be implemented on January, 1, 2012. Systems will be put into place in order to help the smooth transition into the new requirements
New South Wales
NSW recently confirmed the January start for WHS act. A training grant of $550 thousand will be offered in ordered to help small business comprehend the new laws.The government is taking steps to ensure that businesses are properly informed about the OHS harmonisation laws, by offering workshops and seminars.
Applications for the training grants must be submitted prior to January 30, 2012.
SafeWork Australia has released a FAQ page that answers some questions one might have regarding volunteers and the OHS Harmonisation laws.
Firstly, the page explains what constitutes as a “volunteer” under the WHS act. More specifically, the faq page explains the manner in which volunteers must comply with the WHS act and subsequently, the duties owed to the volunteer under the act.For those who are unsure whether or not the harmonised laws apply to their volunteer organisation; the FAQ page states that: “A volunteer organisation owes duties to its volunteers under the WHS Act, where it conducts a ‘business or undertaking’ (whether for profit or not), and is not a ‘volunteer association’ as defined by the WHS Act.”
Are You Liable?
The page further states that volunteers can indeed be held liable if they are found to have acted in a manner that caused injury to themselves or others in the workplace. However, if a volunteer decides to be an “officer” (which has duties), the volunteer would not be prosecuted under the WHS act for failing to uphold his/her duties. This immunity from prosecution is intended to prevent discouragement of volunteers from becoming officers. However, A volunteer worker, who has breached his duties in a working capacity, can still be prosecuted.
Lastly, the page states that all businesses are required to provide their volunteers with the proper PPE (personal protective equipment), if the job requires the use of such.
Amidst controversy the Upper-House has decided to block the implementation of the OHS Harmonisation laws.
It was the desire of the Government to have the proposed laws passed this week so that they could take effect from January 1,2012.However, the chamber voted thinly by 11 -10 votes to postpone any further discussion of the bill until February, 2012.Opposition spokesperson, Rob Lucas stated that the Liberals attempted to garner support from minor parties and independents in order to defer the debate.
The Bill was introduced in April and it’s goal was to harmonise state and federal worker safety laws.
The Housing Industry Association has expressed concerns that the laws would cost an additional $20,000, while other groups have supported the laws citing that it would give unions more power over health and safety issues.Industrial Relations Minister, Russell Wortley has rejected the concerns of the HIA, and said that the Opposition’s move was disgraceful.
Thus far, WA and Victoria governments have pledged their goals of delaying the legislation by up to 12 months in their respective states.
Lucas has stated that NSW has already amended the model OHS Harmonisation Bill while WA has implied that they will soon do the same. Lucas also believes the Victorian government will follow suit.
According to a November 10th news report Western Australia is refusing to accept the new National OHS harmonisation laws that are to be signed up by January 1, 2012. This is causing a great deal of concern for the Australian council of trade who state that the WA government’s refusal is jeopardizing workers lives.
It has been pointed out that up to 21 workers are killed in WA each year and at least one worker is seriously injured every 30 minutes. With statics such as these one has to wonder why the Western Australian government would be reluctant to accept any OHS regulations that might prove to provide more safety to workers in Western Australia. However, according Government spokesmen the government feels that they were not given enough time or information about these guidelines and are concerned with the impact that such guidelines might have on the smaller businesses.
However, the unions feel that by refusing to accept the OHS guidelines, WA is sending the wrong message to employers and feel that the Barnett government should be concentrating on the rights of workers to have a safe working environment and rights of these workers families to know that their family members will be returning home from work safely.
Questions About the New OHS Harmonisation Laws
Questions and concerns that the new OHS harmonisation laws may actually create a less safe work environment in some areas and some other areas of Australia have also shown a reluctance to accept the new national guidelines as they stand. The question that no one seems willing or able to answer is what safety assurances will workers have if these new guidelines are not accepted.
The entire purpose of the OHS is to ensure that the workplace is safe for workers and that all workers get the training they need to help to insure their own safety and the safety of their co-workers and their workplace in general. If the OHS regulations are accepted or agreed with will that leave workers in WA and other areas with no protection in the workplace and no safety training?
These are question that WA needs to answer before they decide to completely reject the OHS guidelines and subject millions of workers to a lack of any safety protection what so ever. In the end it seems as though federal guidelines will prevail and those areas that are non compliant will be in for legal battles and possible fines for failing to comply with guidelines set down by OHS. However, what will happen in the end remains to be seen.
In the meantime, a 2000 signature petition was handed to the WA government on Thursday demanding that it sign up for the new regulations by January 1st. Only time will tell if the government will heed the demand issued by this petition. If the new regulations are accepted then WA will have a full year to comply with the new regulations. For the sake of the workers in WA it is hoped that the government makes the right decision for its workers.