In October 2007, the then Opposition Industrial Relations Spokesperson, Julia Gillard (now Prime Minister), announced that her future government would move towards a more harmonised approach to Work Health and Safety (WHS) and Workers Compensation legislation within Australia.
Under the Australian Constitution the Federal Government does not have powers to make workplace health and safety laws so too the approach of negotiating with the States and Territories to develop ‘model’ laws that could then be adopted in each jurisdiction to result in ‘harmonised’ laws across the country.
The Labor party was elected and by May 2008, as Industrial Relations Minister, Ms Gillard announced that a national review would be undertaken of all Work Health and Safety laws across the country. The resultant findings were published and public submissions were sort.
Hundreds of submissions were received and a great deal of debate occurred within the community, industry, by unions and across the jurisdictions of Australia.
Several jurisictions enacted their versions of the law with start dates of 1st January 2012. South Australian and Tasmanian recently moved toward an effective start date of 1st January 2013.
However, neither Victoria nor Wester Australia appear to be moving toward the new laws. Recently the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, called upon the Victorian and Western Australian governments to introduce their new health and safety laws.
“Workers and employers in South Australia and Tasmania will join millions of other Australians already benefiting from harmonised WHS laws in other states and territories. This year marks the first time in history the majority of Australians will be covered by harmonised work health and safety arrangements,” the Minister said.
The new Work Health and Safety Act and Regulation is intended to drive consistency and reduce red tape, particularly for businesses working across 2 or more jurisdictions. According to to the Ministor Shorten, the increased productivity is worth up to $2 billion a year over the next 10 years.
The result, for now, is that business has a variety of obligations across Australia. However, for the first time, all jurisdictions are discussing Work Health and Safety across borders. The national government is engaged and the future looks like a harmonised approach.
It is vital that businesses act now to determine what their current and future legal obligations are. Those operating across jurisdictions may have varied start date. The new laws bring a different approach, additional obligations and higher penalties than have existed before. Boards, business owners, senior managers have a legal obligation to carry out WHS Compliance Checks to ensure they are keeping their workers safe.