Simple Facts of New National OHS Act

Most people involved in OHS know that the Federal Government has an agenda to reform the current fragmented and inconsistent approach to workplace safety in Australia. The solution will be a harmonization of the ten principal statutes across each state and territory into one new Work Health and Safety Act.

Crystal Balling OHSThis is the biggest single change to happen to OHS in a decade. Unfortunately we are going to have to wait until 2012 before a new national system comes into force. Right now the new Act is not planned for launch until January 2012.

The aim of the reforms is to ensure equal standards apply across the nation. Right now business owners, executives, company directors and safety professionals are daily faced with the task of complying with over 400 OHS codes and regulations. Everyone agrees that for a country with the relatively small population of Australia this represents an overly complex and arcane system that is overdue for change.

Reducing the differences between states will be an important issue for any business operating across a number of borders. The changes and alignment of regulatory black letter law will present opportunity for companies with a national presence to realize operational improvements as well as reduce professional costs.

National companies with operations in each state and territory have long complained about the unnecessary financial burden each OHS systems places on them for what they see as little benefit. The hope is that with the new OHS Act we will see a better set of heath and safety outcomes as well as economic cost improvements. Afterall, the true effectiveness of any OHS system is in the prevention of injury or death in the workplace.

If anyone has information about the reform or the process we would love to hear from you. As the new Act is developed and crafted we hope to keep each other up-to-date by sharing insights, opinions and news. Please help by passing along anything that you feel is of interest or would help others better understand the changes.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (9)

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  1. Les Henley says:

    Hi All,
    I’m in full agreement with the sentiment for a unified OHS system across all jurisdictions. I currently support Contract Operations Managers in 3 of those and work for an organisation that is subject to every one of them.

    I’m waiting with baited breath to see if it actually happens in 2012.
    I’ve downloaded a copy of the “Model Work Health and Safety Bill” ‘approved by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on December 11 2009′ and have read through most of it now and I’m impressed with the outcome.
    Whilst there has been much rhetoric about the ‘absolute duty of care’ embodied in NSW’ current Act versus the ‘reasonably practicable’ approach desired by most other jurisdictions, I don’t think the outcome has watered down the NSW approach very much, if at all. I’m speaking as a layman not a legal expert.

    The one downside to all of this is that due to our Constitution, that establishes the federal system of government and law making, any of the state jurisdictions can withdraw from the unification process at any time, or modify the ‘model bill’ before enacting it (it even has sections that recognise state differences and allow for some tailoring), and we’ll be right back where we are now.

    As far as I am aware, the delay in implementing the Model Bill is to allow for a Model Regulation to be developed in a similar way to replace the various approaches taken in each jurisdiction and to provide a uniform approach to addressing some specific hazard issues, such as confined spaces, work at heights and hazardsous substances/dangerous goods, that may be common across some or all jurisdictions.

    Provided all jurisdictions continue to particpate in the spirit of unification I look forward to a new era of OHS law in Australia commencing in 2012. If that happens I will have witnessed and participated in every major change to OHS law in Australia since the Robens (UK) & Williams (NSW)Reports during my working life, starting with the change from prescriptive to consultative legislation in the 70’s & 80’s and the various developments in several jurisdictions since then.

    Les Henley

  2. Perhaps one day when it does happen, there will be a gradual understanding of how a common and unified approach can be beneficial not only to business, but also to employees and taxpayers. For example, there is no national definition of workplace bullying, no national system or process for collecting data (that can compare like with like) and no great understanding of just how much bullying is costing. In some cases, the full direct and indirect costs are not captured but are simply passed on to the taxpayers (if the bullying occurs in the public sector) and to the consumer if it occurs in the private sector. If the public and private sector was required to report on common aspects of bullying, it might help change the way some responses are provided to physical or psychological injuries. A common approach would help those large organisations that have employees working across different states, help employees have a better understanding of resolution options, create situations both the victim and the alleged bully can return to some semblance of ‘normality’, workplace productivity might improve, there might be less absenteeism and savings could be used to generate new jobs. If the cost of bullying in the public sector in one year in one State worked out to be about $10 billion, the cost across Australia is huge. A reduction in those costs would help everyone. However, the implementation of any new approaches has to be carefully managed and tested with appropriate accountabilities being put into place.

  3. Les Henley says:

    Hi Bernie,
    I think you have raised a very valid popint – bullying in the workplace is more widely recognised today than even just 5 years ago.
    Maybe you could make a submission to Safe Work Australia to have that issue included into the Model Regulations – if you don’t ask you don’t get!
    Apart from a timeline on their website, showing development of the model reg between Sept 09 – Sept 10, I haven’t seen any information on that part of the unification process yet but the timeline shows a consultative component as there was with the Model Bill.

  4. Wayne says:

    The guys at Safety at Work released a new report last year (yes 2009!) that sheds light on the number of work related fatalities in Australia. Its written by Kevin Jones and is quite confronting.

  5. John Hardman says:

    Having worked accross all juristictions at one time or another it will be pleasing to be able to have one set of guidance rules and regulations. The new OHS legislation will not solve all the issues that are currently out there but will go along way in creating a unified approach accross the board.
    The only fly at the moment is whether WA will come on board with the other states. I am hoping they will. The difficulty will be interpretation by the local judiciary (Workcover) in each state. A bit like the National Audit tool really-interprtation can be different in each state down the eastern coast.
    It is a start and great start and hopefully once in place will improve over time. Look how long its taken the Robens model to get where it is.

    John H

  6. Melissa Littleford says:

    I have worked in Adult Learning and Training, and over the last few years, The Childcare Industry. Well was this an eye opener. I welcome any ‘uniformed approach outlining clearly to Employers/Organisations/Directors ‘what needs to be done in terms of adhering to OHS policy and procedure.’ Firstly, the need does exist for a National definition of workplace bullying. I also believe Work Cover needs to ‘share data with other Childcare Professional Industry Policy Makers to look at the ‘data'(Ok it can be done in a way TO ENSURE PRIVACY IS NOT BREACH). The Childcare industry is rife with cases of employees affected by the ‘strain of the job’: to TAKE WORK HOME AND DO IT UNPAID. Surely this requirement TO TAKE WORK HOME whether verbally said or ‘implied/pressured’ has an immediate effect or a time frame when considering other factors like: a change in work hours, the way employees interact with each other (culture) or not, affects the PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH OF THE EMPLOYEE/S. So how much is bullying costing the Employers/Directors/Organisations?

    Therefore, the need yes does exist to implement a National approach to OHS, but then to follow through with monitoring and applying the education (identify training gaps, raise awareness of OHS issues) as in my experience over the past few years – my employer did not have: WORK COVER SIGNAGE UP ie. “What to do if you are injured at work”. I did not see an ‘Injuries register, a risk, near miss, or a hazard reporting form.’ Hey, i am sure the motto of this work place was ‘the less paperwork the better’. When is BIG BUSINESS GOING TO GET IT THAT: A good start to OHS is in training and awareness of staff and implementing policies and procedures.

    I agree with Bernie,(see his comment above)
    “If the public and private sector was required to report on common aspects of bullying, it might help change the way some responses are provided to physical or psychological injuries.”

    Melissa Littleford.

  7. Public Sector Tenders…

    I wish I had read this article last month, it would have made my job easier…

  8. Great to see the discussion about the Work Health and Safety Act and bullying. I have had some interesting discussions in the past few weeks about the Act and the possibility of a flow on effect. The devil is always in the detail (in this case, the implementation). I find it interesting that there still seems to be a lack of knowledge that so much progress has been made, and yet in 18 months, the Act will be there. I suspect that if public and private sector organisations start doing an audit of legislation, they will find numerous gaps, despite having a policy or procedure for ‘this or that’. Even today, I had a discussion with a public sector employee about the links between risk management and health and safety. Despite discussing this issue some two months ago, no progress has been made. I suspect that come 2012, a very different response will be provided if an action is pursued in relation to a breach of health and safety. Common language and understanding about what is and what isn’t bullying, reasonable management and associated issues is essential. If the cost of one claim in one agency is $740,000 and still climbing, why would some proactive or preventive strategy not be considered. Doing the same thing and getting no change in workplace behaviours does not seem to be a logical approach. Even if the cost was reduced by half, that money could be diverted into operational needs. Managers cannot sit by and pretend bullying is not happening. When the chips are down, and the investigation uncovers some of the ‘evidence’ being documented, the manager might find that they have a case to answer if they have failed to act. This is a good question to ask “How much income has been generated as a result of workplace bullying?”

  9. To everybody
    I find it fascinating to read comments from various parties from such a diverse range of backgrounds in relation to the Model Work Health and Safety Bill.
    I tend however to agree with Les Henley when he says he is waiting with baited breath to see if it actually happens in 2012.
    This will be particularly the case with Western Australia that has such a diverse set of standards.
    For the main part the WA Mines Safety & Inspection Regulations 1995, seems to be the dominate legislation. A large range of interpretations of this legislation exists to such a point that workers exposed to the requirements have become complacent to the point that the legislation no longer works.
    A safety professional from the Eastern States finds it hard to understand that if the works have been commissioned by a mining company then the WA Mines Safety & Inspection Regulations 1995 are stated as being dominate to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, even though the works may not be carried out on a site meeting the definitions of a “Mine”.
    This approach, one would believe, would create a situation of a compliance level far above that of the Act, but this seems not to be the case.
    Rather than placing a responsibility on the employer to provide a safe workplace as is the spirit of the Model Work Health and Safety Bill and all current State OHS legislation, an employer engaged as a contractor to a mining company is required to conduct the works to the “Principals” OHS requirements even if they contradict the contractors safe system of work.
    It is difficult to understand how an employer can show full instruction and training and consultation when each site the worker may be required to work on is governed by unfamiliar safe work practices belonging to another company.
    Equipment is expected to be inspected every time it moved from one site to another.
    This on paper seems like a good idea, but, the problem is that there is no standard for what needs to be inspected and no standard for who should be the “competent” person to conduct the inspection.
    This has resulted in unregulated companies setting up as inspection companies charging large fees for substandard inspections.
    Does anyone think for one moment that this system will change just because a new Act has been enacted?
    Allan Wollard CFSIA

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