In July 2008, the Council of Australia Governments (COAG) signed an Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in OHS, with the aim of harmonising Australia’s work health and safety laws, and creating model work health and safety laws to be adopted by all State and Territory Governments.
An agreement between all States and Territory Governments to achieve uniform work health and safety laws was necessary, as the power to legislate in relation to occupational health and safety remains with the States and Territories.
Constitutionally, the Federal Government’s ability to legislate in relation to occupational health and safety is limited to their own employees.
Simply put, this means that South Australia and all other States and Territory Governments will use the Model Work Health and Safety Laws as the basis for their own laws. This will result in all State and Territory work health and safety laws in effect mirroring the Model laws.
Currently, the Federal, State and Territory Governments all have their own work health and safety laws, and each is responsible for making and enforcing these laws. As such, there is a large degree of difference between them in some areas, including, but not limited to enforcement and penalties, definition of duty holders, powers of health and safety representatives and the regulation of specific industries or hazards such as mining, dangerous goods and electrical safety. This results in increased compliance costs for multi-state employers and cause confusion among businesses and employees.
COAG have introduced this harmonisation so that the same work health and safety standards apply to all Australian businesses, wherever they may be situated.
Business SA has been an active and integral part of the harmonisation process on a national level, by actively representing the needs of employers and ensuring that the proposed standards are in line with South Australian employers’ best interests.
The Model Work Health and Safety Act was published by Safe Work Australia in early 2010, after a comprehensive national review into work health and safety laws across Australia which involved substantial public consultation.
The enactment of Model Work Health and Safety laws will result in a number of changes for South Australian businesses, including, but not limited to:
- the primary duty holder to be the person ‘conducting a business or undertaking
- officers of persons conducting a business or undertaking must exercise ‘due diligence’ to ensure that the person conducting a business or undertaking complies with that duty or obligation
- a substantial increase in penalties for breaches of the work health and safety laws and
- right of entry to workplaces for unions to investigate suspected contraventions of work health and safety laws, and to consult employees about work health and safety matters.
A key part of these model work health and safety laws, the Work Health and Safety Regulations have been developed and drafted by Safe Work Australia. The model Work Health and Safety Regulations are now open for public comment from 7 December 2010 to 4 April 2011. The draft Regulations can be accessed here.
Business SA will assess the draft Regulations and make submissions to Safe Work Australia on behalf of South Australian businesses. Business SA is also working closely with SafeWork SA throughout this process by providing feedback on technical and machinery aspects of the laws to ensure the smooth operation of the new laws.
Through membership of Business SA, business are encouraged to provide comments and feedback on these draft Regulations and actively contribute to the development of Australia’s new work health and safety laws. Comments and feedback can sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Business SA will be holding an information session in early February 2011 to provide employers with an overview of the draft Regulations. Attendees will then be invited to attend focus groups to examine the key concepts of the Regulations.
Businesses need to start preparing for these significant laws that are due to commence on 1 January 2012.
For more information, contact Business SA’s Policy Unit on 08 8300 0032.