Government files new WHS amendment bill

New legislation covers employee training, deadlines, prohibitions, offences

Government files new WHS amendment bill

The federal government has filed a bill that would amend national work health and safety laws.

The Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022 would reform the current WHS Act of 2011 to include revisions to Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) model Work Health and Safety Bill.

According to the government’s media release, minor technical changes are made to model provisions for Commonwealth implementation.

This follows recent changes to the country’s IR laws — which are facing considerable opposition from employer groups.

Consultations before revisions

Marie Boland, former executive director of SafeWork South Australia and author of the independent review into the model WHS laws for the state, reviewed the existing WHS laws in her 2018 report (Boland Review).

Because of Boland’s recommendations, Safe Work Australia conducted a three-way consultation to solicit comment on integrating them into WHS laws in December 2019. Ministers in charge of workplace health and safety agreed in May 2021 on a way forward for all the recommendations. Thus, the model WHS bill was revised under this procedure in June 2022.

The government emphasised that the proposed reforms would harmonise the WHS Act with the recent changes to the model. Specifically, the bill:

  • amends the Category 1 offence to include negligence as a fault element
  • clarifies that a work group is negotiated with workers who are proposed to form the work group
  • amends the obligation to train health and safety representatives to provide that health and safety representatives are entitled to choose a course of training
  • aligns the process for the issuing and service of notices under the WHS Act to provide clarity and consistency
  • provides an inspector may within 30 days of entering a workplace issue a written notice requiring the production of documents, written answers to specified questions, or attendance at an interview, provided the request is related to the reason for entry
  • clarifies that Comcare may share information with other persons including corresponding regulators for the purpose of performing functions under relevant laws
  • extends the 12-month deadline to 18 months, for a person to make a request to the regulator to bring a prosecution for a Category 1 or 2 offence
  • prohibits a person from entering into a contract of insurance to provide coverage over liability for monetary penalties which may be imposed under the WHS Act
  • creates a new offence in relation to officers of bodies corporate which contravene the prohibition on entering into contracts of insurance to cover liability for monetary penalties.

Additionally, it would modify the SW Act of 2008 to clarify, for the avoidance of doubt, so that SWA may be given essential information to support its data and research responsibilities.

SWA’s data is used to research workplace health and safety and workers’ compensation policies. The upkeep of national data sets and the development of evidence-based research need input from various sources, including jurisdictional agencies. The changes will guarantee that individuals with relevant information can provide the said data to SWA.

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