SA seeks feedback on proposed WHS Act amendments

Proposed reforms address work health and safety disputes, as well as right of entry breaches

SA seeks feedback on proposed WHS Act amendments

The South Australian (SA) government is requesting feedback on its proposed reforms to the Work Health and Safety Act of 2012 (WHS Act).

The proposed reforms include giving workers and their representatives the ability to pursue civil legal proceedings for work health and safety breaches as an alternative to criminal prosecutions by SafeWork SA.

"The reforms we are beginning consultation on will help keep workers safe by encouraging health and safety disputes to be sorted out at an early stage, before injuries and workplace deaths can occur," said Industrial Relations Minister Kyam Maher in a statement.

According to the proposal, the South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) would be given the power to deal with disputes about health and safety breaches, such as conciliate or mediate the matter.

"If the dispute is not resolved, a party may apply for the SAET to impose a civil penalty for a breach of a health and safety duty," the consultation paper said.

The maximum penalty for a contravention would be $100,000 for a corporation, while $10,000 for an individual.

"These reforms will allow health and safety disputes to be sorted out more quickly, at a lower cost, and with significant lower potential penalties for businesses, rather than relying on serious criminal prosecutions alone," Maher said.

Entry rights disputes

Meanwhile, the reforms also aim to give businesses stronger powers to deal with any potential misuse of right-of-entry powers.

"With an expanded dispute resolution system for health and safety disputes, it is appropriate to consider a more robust mechanism for employers and their representatives to enforce the settlement of right-of-entry disputes," Maher said.

According to the proposal, if a party breaches an arbitral order by SAET resolving a right-of-entry dispute, another party affected by the breach may apply to the tribunal to impose a civil penalty.

SAET would also be given new powers to consider a union's history of right-of-entry breaches, as well as make a declaration to remove a union's ability to bring civil penalty proceedings.

The proposal also aims to grant the tribunal powers to place a union under closer scrutiny by SafeWork SA and make it easier to revoke right-of-entry permits for future breaches.

Feedback on these proposed reforms is open until November 10, according to the SA government.

'Culture of accountability'

Maher said these reforms do not alter the duties that are already under the WHS Act.

"Instead, this proposal is aimed at building a culture of accountability by involving more people in the task of monitoring and enforcing health and safety laws," the minister said.

The reforms stem from the recommendations of an independent review on SafeWork SA by former WorkSafe Victoria executive director John Merritt.

"The independent review conducted by Mr. Merritt presents an important opportunity to make a real and lasting improvement to health and safety in South Australia, and I am pleased to present this consultation paper outlining a potential model for the implementation of one of the review's key recommendations," Maher said.

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