By Michael Selinger
The delivery of a report from the independent review of the harmonised WHS laws in Australia (Review) has provided an overall tick of approval for the operation of the safety laws, along with a series of recommendations to assist in delivering clarity, consistency and effective operation and enforcement of the laws.
But what does the Review mean for businesses around Australia?
Background to the Review
The first point to note is that the Review examined the operation and effectiveness of WHS laws in all jurisdictions in Australia, including Victoria and Western Australia – the only two jurisdictions to date that have not enacted the model WHS laws.
The model laws were first developed by Safe Work Australia in 2009-2011 and enacted by the other jurisdictions in Australia between 2011 and 2012.
The second point to note is that the submissions sought by the Review covered broad issues with the purpose of eliciting responses from businesses, employer and worker associations and the regulators as to the effectiveness and practical operation of the laws.
This is a critical point because at the time that the model WHS laws were implemented in 2011-2012, there was arguably uncertainty as to whether the new laws would necessarily improve safety in the workplace.
It is one thing to have uniform laws. It is another thing for those uniform laws to operate effectively, particularly if they are not being applied uniformly.
What did the Review look at?
The types of questions asked by the Review were ones that your organisation may well have asked itself over the years, including:
- What currently works in the WHS laws and why?
- Will it continue to work as work practices and environments evolve?
- What doesn’t work and why?
- What could we do to make it work?
Perhaps not surprisingly, the author of the report, Marie Boland (former Executive Director of SafeWork South Australia), stated that:
“Two key themes running through this Review process are confusion and complexity, mainly in relation to the model WHS Regulations and Codes. Businesses say that they find it difficult to navigate their way through the three tiers of the laws to select those aspects that specifically apply to them. Many small businesses in particular continually raised questions about how they should assess the risks and hazards in their workplace and what actions they should take to fulfil their WHS obligations.”
Other key questions asked by the Review included:
- Are any provisions in the model WHS laws especially difficult for organisations and workers in remote or regional areas to comply with?
- Are there areas in the model WHS laws where the balance between flexibility in the model Codes of Practice and prescription of the model Regulations could be improved?
- Do the model WHS laws make it clear that PCBUs must consult, co-operate and co-ordinate where they have shared duties or how consultation with workers and participation of workers in WHS matters should occur?
What were the recommendations?
In tomorrow’s Health & Safety Bulletin we will examine the recommendations that were made by the Review and the immediate consequences they will have on your organisation if they are implemented.