New workplace health and safety requirements – what you need to know
New workplace health and safety requirements has come into effect (in most States). Paul Skelton looks at what you need to know in order to comply with the new legislation.
As of 1 January 2012, new Work Health and Safety (WHS) Acts commenced in New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory.
Tasmania has also passed the Act, but it will not commence until 1 January 2013.
But what does this mean to you, the contractor?
Until now, each state had its own occupational health and safety (OH&S) laws. Now, in an effort to ensure harmonisation across the nation, all states will follow the same (or practically the same) set of requirements.
This means that there will be some significant changes to what is expected from you as an employer.
To prepare for the new laws, HR consulting firm EI Legal urges business owners to identify the changes between the previous OH&S Act and the model WHS Act to understand what needs to change, and what can stay the same in order to achieve compliance.
The firm also suggests businesses review organisational structure to determine where responsibility for WHS lies; and review policies, procedures and consultation processes to ensure that not only are they compliant, but that terminology used is consistent with the new act.
Patricia Ryan is practice manager of EI Legal and a solicitor with more than 30 years’ experience in health and safety consultation.
“One of the first things that employers are going to notice is a change in terminology,” she says.
“The use of OH&S is going to be replaced by WHS, or ‘work health and safety’. The old term ‘employer’ is replaced by ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU). And ‘employee’ will be replaced with ‘worker’, which includes employees, contractors, sub-contractors, volunteers, students on work experience, etc.
“Probably the next major change is regarding duty of care. At the moment, the primary duty of care for health and safety rests with employers. A broader duty of care now extends to all PCBUs, so that will not only include an employer but anyone involved with getting the work done – contractors, sub-contractors, host employers, etc. There can be more than one duty of care holder at any one time and that leads in to the consultation requirements.
“Currently consultation is between an employee and employees, both that consultation will now be broadened to include PCBUs and any other party responsible for doing the work.”
The other major change is the introduction of due diligence obligations for officers of PCBUs.
“There’s also increased responsibility for health and safety representatives, so in all jurisdictions they’ll now be able to issue performance improvement notices, or PINS. They’ll also be able to order workers to cease work in cases where they believe the work being performed is unsafe.
“We’ve also seen a big increase in penalty provisions under the new laws. There are now three categories of penalties, with category one being reserved for the most serious breaches. And there has been a substantial increase in the maximum penalties, up to $3 million for a corporation and $300,000 for an individual, and up to five years’ imprisonment for the most serious infringements.”
One of the groups that will benefit most from the new laws is the unions, Patricia says.
“The union’s right of entry will now be national. Currently Tasmania and South Australia don’t have union rights of entry in their OH&S laws, so they’ll be harmonised across the country. Now, union members who hold a WHS entry permit will be able to enter a workplace without notice for a suspected contravention or on 24 hours notice to consult or advise.”
For micro business (two to five employees), a category which most readers of Connected Home would fall into, the new laws will also affect you.
As long as they’re ‘reasonably practicable’.
“People that hold a duty of care must do what is ‘reasonably practicable’ in terms of consultation. It wouldn’t make sense for tradesmen to have a WHS committee, but they can hold toolbox safety meetings where they have a chat about what is expected on each job,” Patricia says.
“For members of the electrical industry, there will also be a code of practice for managing electrical risks in the workplace. This document really goes in to the nitty gritty of electrical equipment, electrical installations, electrical work, etc.”
In South Australia, debate on the Act had progressed before being adjourned until 14 February 2012. Victoria and WA, although remaining committed to the harmonisation process, have yet to introduce the Act into their parliaments and have requested a delay in implementing the new laws in their states.
“This has been a long time coming,” Patricia says.
“The idea of model legislation is that everybody will have the same legislation, but states have the option for minor variances.
“Ultimately, though, it’s in the nation’s best interest.”