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.
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.