Top Five Things You Need to Know About the New Safety Laws

Source: Safety Concepts

New workhealth and safety laws commenced in the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory on 1st January 2012. Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania have deferred the implementation of these new laws for a further 12 months and South Australian parliament have voted to adjourn the debate on the WHS Bill until 14 February 2012.

There are major changes to workplace health and safety under the new laws and differences from state to territory. We highly recommend you check with your state or federal authority for detailed information on the changes in your jurisdiction, but here are the top 5 changes that apply across the board.

  1. There are tougher penalities being imposed under the new laws. The penalties provided for under the WHS are serious and employers should be aware of their new obligations. Serious breaches may extend to a maximum of $3 million for a corporation and up to $600,000 for an individual.
  2. The term 'employer' that applied in most occupational health and safety laws is replaced with the term 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) and 'employee' is replaced with a broadly defined term of 'worker'. Duty of care is no longer defined by the nature of employment relationship. The term 'worker' includes employees, volunteers, contractors, sub-contractors, apprentices, work experience students and labour hire personnel. An 'officer' on the other hand is a senior executive who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business or undertaking. An 'officer' must exercise due diligence to ensure that the PCBU complies with WHS legislation. This duty cannot be delegated.
  3. The term 'workplace' in most jurisdictions will be broadened to include any place where a worker goes or is likely to go while at work. Authorised union representatives will have the right to enter workplaces for health and safety purposes. Penalties will apply where a PCBU hinders union representatives from exercising their powers without reasonable excuse.
  4. Not only will PCBUs have a duty of care in the workplace, but each individual worker will have a duty to ensure their acts or omissions do not negatively impact upon their own, or others', health and safety. This provision will clarify an individual worker's right to discontinue or cease work on the grounds of an unsafe or unhealthy workplace.
  5. There is a new duty to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with other duty holders. Employers will need to show that they have provided training in OHS Consultation and actively promote duty holders working together on safety issues. This duty aims to address situations where more than one duty holder is responsible for the same work health and safety matter to ensure that duty holders work together to control work health and safety risk.

There are significant changes to OHS laws but employers who currently comply with the various health and safety laws across Australia should be well positioned to comply with the new regulatory system. If you haven't already done so, now is a good time to conduct a review of your company's current workplace health and safety systems to ensure your business complies with the WHS laws to avoid a potential breach in the future.