The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has welcomed Safe Work Australia’s first national review of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws.
The report, which was conducted by Marie Boland, makes 34 recommendations about the future operation of Australia’s work health and safety laws.
“Most of Australia’s workplaces are small businesses and more Australians work in small businesses than in the public sector and larger business combined,” said Australian Chamber CEO, James Pearson.
“So, we welcome the recommendations aimed at improving the ability of small business to understand, interact with and implement WHS legislation.”
The report recognises that a small or medium sized business is not just a scaled down version of a big business, according to Pearson, who said the recommendations consider separate processes for different sized businesses including new arrangements for appointing health and safety representatives and work groups in small businesses.
“The recommendation for more practical and realistic guidance materials, an initiative that the Australian Chamber has championed, will help improve workplace safety,” he said.
However, there could be unintended and significant consequences from some other recommendations, including:
“This report is an important first step,” said Pearson.
“The impact of the recommendations, including their interaction with workplace laws, needs to be analysed and understood. Timely consultation with stakeholders and experts will be a vital part of that process.”
The ACTU also weighed in on the review, which recommended that the model WHS Act be amended to introduce industrial manslaughter as an offence in WHS legislation.
Under the current system in most states, many companies which are found to be responsible for the death of a worker pay only small fines, which can often be claimed against insurance, according to ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien.
He said this provides no deterrent for unsafe workplace practices which kill more than 200 workers in Australia every year.
The review also highlights the growing incidence of psychosocial injuries at work and recommends government introduce regulation to protect workers along with increased penalties.
“We need ongoing and wide-ranging change in workplace health and safety to end deaths at work, but industrial manslaughter legislation would be a huge step forward,” said O’Brien.
“Everyone should come home safe from work, but every week four people are killed in their workplace in Australia.
“There should not be one rule for working people and another for bosses. If you cut corners on safety and someone dies, you should be held responsible, and you should go to jail.
“It’s appalling that businesses can claim the tiny fines they receive for killing a person – destroying a family and a community in the process – against their insurance. There is no justice in that, and more importantly there is no incentive to change.
“Industrial nanslaughter is not just important because it will provide an avenue to true justice for the families of those people killed at work, but because it will force cultural change that will hopefully lead to fewer deaths at work.”