The historic decision of the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council (WRMC) to agree on a model OHS act which will harmonise OHS across the nation has been welcomed by the industry, but calls have been made to Western Australia to speed its decision to take part in the national system.
In a step to remove the current fragmented and inconsistent approach to workplace safety in Australia, the Rudd Government has driven reform of the OHS system with the aim to ensure that equal standards and protections apply across the nation.
Currently, there are ten principal OHS statutes across Australia; six state, two territory and two Australian Government and more than 400 OHS regulations and codes of practice.
States and Territories around Australia, other than Western Australia, have now agreed to enact the agreed model OHS act which will be adopted from 1 January 2012 as the Work Health and Safety Act.
Western Australia has supported the principle of OHS harmonisation but will retain its own settings in some areas.
“Areas where we are unlikely to introduce the model laws include changes to the level of penalties and right of entry; power for health and safety representatives to stop work; and reverse onus of proof for discrimination issues,” WA Commerce Minister Troy Buswell told the WRMC.
He said that the state also had concerns about changes to Category 1 and 2 offences in the model laws proposed by Safe Work Australia and adopted by the WRMC, saying:
“WA has also indicated its willingness to participate in the Safe Work Australia framework but reserves its right not to adopt changes recommended by that process in the future.”
Business Council of Australia Chief Executive Katie Lahey said that the decision was a significant improvement on the 10 statutes and 400 regulations that had existed previously throughout Australia
“Harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws is one of the most important issues for businesses which operate across borders in Australia,” Lahey said.
“Having many different systems for workplace safety across Australia imposes unnecessary costs on business with no benefit in terms of better safety outcomes. Different regulations also impede the movement of workers across jurisdictions. “
Lahey also urged Western Australia to speed its progress towards participating in the national system. She said that a truly effective and efficient national system of workplace safety needed the involvement of every jurisdiction in Australia.
“Workplace safety should mean the same thing whether you are working in Melbourne, Sydney or Perth,” she said.
According to the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA), the real test of the effectiveness of the system will be when companies begin to enact the new reforms.
“The next critical step will be for all states and territories to enact the model act and for the associated Regulations to be enacted on schedule,” said Gary Lawson-Smith, CEO of the SIA.
“Whilst harmonisation of workplace safety laws may prove to be a good example of the effectiveness of co-operative federalism through COAG, the true test of the effectiveness of the model act and associated regulations must firstly be better health and safety prevention outcomes (in terms of less workplace related deaths and injuries), reduced social costs and serious commitments by business to OHS practices of the highest standard.”