WORKOUT Uniform, nationwide OH&S laws flagged
LONG-TERM and nationwide change in occupational health and safety legislation is likely following the recent announcement by the Rudd Government of a national review into model OHS laws with the specific aim of all state and territory governments ‘‘ harmonising’’ within five years.
All governments have agreed that a model principal OHS Act, with model regulations and model codes of practice — to be legislated by each state — is the way forward.The review will report by January 30.
Michael Tehan of law firm MinterEllison says some states have been improving their OH&S laws for some time, but nationally consistent law is still some years away. He says, for example, that it is just over three years since major reforms of occupational health and safety law were enacted in Victoria, and that these have played a significant part in improving workplace safety.
Last financial year, for the first time in five years, fewer than 30,000 workplace injury claims were made. The rate of claims fell from 12.19 per 1,000 workers in 2005-06 to 11.32 in 2006-07.
He says employers have seen a bottom-line improvement too: in the same period the average workers’ compensation premium rate has fallen.
He attributes part of the improvement to the legal ‘‘ stick’’ used by WorkSafe Victoria. One of the reforms has been a significant increase in penalties for breaches of OH&S law. The maximum penalty in Victoria for a corporation is now nearly $1 million.
Occupational health and safety law in Australia varies from state to state and words used to express the wishes of parliaments are not precisely the same, nor is the emphasis in each state identical. Compliance mechanisms vary, as do penalties.
But a key concept in OH&S legislation is the imposition of general duties on employers, selfemployed people and those managing or controlling workplaces, among others, to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
Determining, identifying and understand hazards and risks can be challenging, but common anaylysis methods include: Likelihood of the risk or hazard, The degree of harm that would result,
What is known or ought to be known about the hazard or risk and ways to eliminate or reduce it,
The availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the risk, and
The cost of eliminating or reducing the risk.