It is more than five years since harmonised health and safety legislation was introduced across Australia with the exception of Victoria and West Australia. In other jurisdictions a variant of Safe Work Australia’s model legislation came into effect on the first of January 2012. It has subsequently been updated with the most recent version released in late 2016. It is supported by Model Regulations.
That is not to say it was implemented verbatim anywhere – subtle differences exist in each state and territory. For example, in New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland, the words “reasonably practicable” were included to qualify the definition of duties. Queensland and South Australia applied the legislation’s duties of care and protections to volunteers while the ACT applied them to site visitors.
Safe Work Australia (SWA) is not an enforcement agency and each state retains responsibility for enforcing legislation.
In late 2014, the process of harmonisation was commenced in WA, though this process is still incomplete and a modified form of the model legislation is likely to be adopted. West Australia’s objections included union right of entry, penalty levels and the reverse onus of proof for discrimination matters.
The Victorian Government has stated that it will not adopt the national model workplace health and safety laws in their current form as it is of the view that it is less stringent than Victoria’s current legislation, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 (summarised here). Injury claims statistics would appear to provide some support for this position – Victoria is second only to NSW in number of serious accidents per capita and boasts the lowest injury claim cost per employee in Australia.
Victoria’s position has received criticism for the added complexity in compliance for employers in multiple jurisdictions.
Meanwhile, Victoria’s regulator (Worksafe Victoria) has recently released new regulations in regards to workplace safety and has issued a guide to assist with compliance. It has indicated that the new rules will improve standards while reducing red tape. Key changes relate to notification of homeowners of asbestos removal work and certain changes to high risk work licenses. Other changes impact hazardous facilities including mines and construction sites.