WA amends workplace health and safety laws

Friday, 01 April, 2022

WA amends workplace health and safety laws

Western Australia’s new Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws have come into effect, to improve protections for all workers in the state. A national first, the new laws bring together WHS for general industry, mines and petroleum operations under a single act. The new laws recognise modern work relationships such as subcontractors and gig economy workers, and introduce the term ‘person conducting a business undertaking’. Therefore, anyone who engaged a WA worker has a duty to protect their health and safety, mentally and physically.

The new laws harmonise with other states and territories, except Victoria, although amendments have been made to tailor the laws to reflect the unique nature of the state. This means companies that operate across Australia will have similar obligations and requirements in each state and territory. The new laws confirm that officers (senior decision-makers) must exercise due diligence to ensure compliance with the laws, ensuring that the responsibility for workplace safety sits with those at the top of an organisation’s hierarchy.

Industrial manslaughter laws have also come into effect, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $5 million fine for an individual, and a maximum $10 million fine for a body corporate. Insurance will no longer cover penalties, ensuring that persons conducting a business undertaking are held accountable for their actions and are responsible for financial penalties.

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston said the new laws reflect the social obligations and responsibilities the community expects from companies and their senior management. Minister Johnston added that the reforms that come with the new laws will further enhance workplace safety in Western Australia. “It’s a historic day, as the McGowan government launches Western Australia’s modern, new Work Health and Safety laws that come into effect tomorrow. Thank you to the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety and the WA Commission for Occupational Safety and Health for all their hard work on developing these new laws. Thanks also to the many stakeholders who significantly contributed including employers, unions and workplace safety advocates — particularly Regan Ballantine,” Minister Johnston said.

Paul Everingham, CEO of the Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA (CME), added that a lot of hard work has gone into these laws, involving significant collaborative effort between government, unions, industry and many others. “CME and its member companies congratulate the WA Government on the introduction of the state's new Work Health and Safety laws. WA’s mining and resources sector puts health and safety at the forefront of all that it does, and we welcome these modernised laws that align our state with the majority of the country. It’s particularly pleasing to see psychosocial health given explicit consideration within the new laws, which is a strong focus for CME and our members,” Everingham said.

Workplace safety advocate Regan Ballantine noted that the modernised WHS Act, which incorporates tougher penalties, is of profound importance to each and every Australian.

“Five years ago, my 17-year-old son Wesley Ballantine was killed at work in negligent circumstances. Wesley was exposed to an obvious and fatal risk that was not mitigated by his employer or the head contractor, and it cost my son his life. It holds true for me, that had meaningful consequences been in place, when he innocently set off for work, he could still be here today. If the satisfaction of sending Wesley home at the end of his workday was not motivation enough — perhaps the threat of a custodial sentence would have been. These laws will help ensure that others never stand in my shoes, never suffer what I have suffered and never feel the fear that my son did when he fell to his death. It is now up to industry to live up to them,” Ballantine said.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Gorodenkoff

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