Work health and safety laws set for update

Former Safe Work Australia director Marie Boland has produced 34 recommendations that could enhance workers’ safety after launching a review of the Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws 2018.

Among her recommendations as an independent reviewer are to make regulations that deal with psychological health, improve the quality of asbestos registers and provide for a new offence of industrial manslaughter that can make businesses liable for their workers’ gross negligence.

While the review found the laws largely operating as intended – as agreed by Minerals Council Australia (MCA) chief executive Tania Constable – some changes are needed to provide clarity and drive greater consistency in the enforcement of the laws across jurisdictions.

However, MCA does not support the introduction of a new industrial manslaughter clause as proposed in the review.

“These objective should not be at the expense of an environment that encourages prompt learning and sharing of important health and safety lessons,” Constable said.

“Law reforms should not impose oppressive and unnecessary criminal liability on some individuals that does not contribute to general or specific deterrence or improve health and safety outcomes at Australian workplaces.

“MCA has yet to see evidence that the current legislative framework is inefficient in dealing with serious offences.”

The recommendations are with WHS ministers for consideration before a response is issued later in 2019.

According to Boland, the discussion paper is just a signal that the review is starting, before it’s being handed over to workers and business practitioners for their thoughts.

“This review is really important because it gives us the first opportunity since the laws were enacted some five to six years ago to step back and look at how they’re working practically in workplaces, and are they actually effective in making sure that workers across Australia are able to come home safely every day to their families,” Boland said.

“I’m looking forward to getting to each state and territory and also some regional centres. We really want to make sure that we have an opportunity to talk to everyone who might have an interest in how the Work Health and Safety Laws are operating.

“The most important thing for this review to be successful is to hear from you.”