A new report tabled by Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard may well form the blueprint for consistent occupational health and safety legislation
Occupational health and safety practitioners are
waiting to see how state and territory ministers
respond to a report which Workplace Relations
Minister Julia Gillard intends will form the basis of national
It is understood the model is substantially based on Vic
torian OH&S laws, that the proposed national legislation
would block unions from launching their own workplace
safety prosecutions and that employers, in some states,
would have to fund extra leave for worker safety training.
The panel that wrote the report includes former chief
executive of the national OH&S commission Robin Stew
art-Crompton, WA industrial relations commissioner
Stephanie Mayman, and Freehills partner Barry Sheriff.
There is broad consensus that long-sought consistent
national OH&S regulations will benefit employees as well as
employers, providing that the best of each state system is inte
grated into the laws.
University of NSW Professor Michael Quinlan agrees that
consistent legislation would be positive, as long as existing stan
dards are not diminished by the Workplace Relations Minister’s
“If superior legislation is overridden or does not become the
standard, I have serious concerns,” he says. “For example, NSW
has what I believe to be the best legislation dealing with safety in
the clothing and trucking industries – I would not like to see [that]
lost in the harmonisation process.
According to a specialist in OH&S law, Holding Redlich senior
associate James Schluter, although it is one of the last employment
areas to go national, national safety legislation is inevitable. He
believes that it should be more of a consultative process and that
until now there has not been enough clarity between what is found
in different states.
“Duty of care is the most important fundamental issue and getting
the balance between duty of care and how it is discharged will be a
challenge,” he says.
Meanwhile, Susan Heron, Australian Institute of Man
agement Victorian branch CEO, maintains that the most
important task for the board and management of a com
pany is to provide for the health and safety of employees.
While national OH&S legislation will make it easier for
mobile employees working across state boundaries, she
says, it will also be good for businesses when it comes to
compliance and risk management.
“It should boost productivity across the business and
make it easier for companies operating across Australia to
achieve better OH&S outcomes,” she says. Heron also
believes a national framework will encourage international
companies to invest in Australia because it will “reduce
the cost and burden of having to adhere to different state
Like Quinlan, Schluter is adamant that differences
between states and their safety management resources also
need to be considered in the model occupational health
and safety legislation.
“For example, NSW has a lot of resources dedicated to
safety and a very active inspectorate,” he says. “Some other
states do not have the same level of activity and current
acts are enforced differently in different states.”
Both Quinlan and Schluter agree the union influence on
OH&S in NSW has historically been beneficial, with Quin
lan especially adamant that national legislation should pro
vide for union influence on workplace safety.
“Unions are not using this power frivolously, as has been sug
gested,” Quinlan says. “Historically, they have launched fewer
than 20 cases and have won virtually every case they have run.
One of the reasons we have security barriers for tellers in banks
today is a result of a case pursued by the Finance Sector Union.”