Just when you thought you had fully come to terms with the Occupational Health & Safety Act 2000, work safety laws in NSW have been overhauled again. From 1 January 2012, all workplaces need to follow the terms of the new Work Health & Safety Act 2011.
The good news is that underlying the new Act is a principle of doing what is “reasonably practicable” to ensure safety at work, bringing NSW law in line with that of many other states to a level which may be more achievable. The bad news is that potential fines for breaches have been increased, and there is, more than ever, a very strong onus on those persons who carry on the business to assume full responsibility in this area.
From our review of the workplace safety arrangements of various employers, a key failing of many companies is that they have tried to delegate the obligation of ensuring workplace safety to the OH&S committee which was formed under the old Act. The purpose of a Safety Committee under the new Act is to provide a mechanism for the company to consult with employees, so that employee concerns are listened to and addressed. The driver of workplace safety must be the senior management and board of a company, not the Safety Committee. Company directors and managers who fail to drive the workplace safety agenda are exposed to substantial fines.
The new Act creates a new type of employee representative – a Health & Safety Representative (“HSR”). HSRs are able to issue stop work notices in workplaces where they have reason to believe employee safety may be at risk, and they are entitled to demand company records relating to safety issues. Unions also have increased rights of entry under the new Act, which is very much in line with Union rights under the Fair Work Act 2009.
Companies would be well advised to review the new Act, and make the changes necessary to comply with it. We can assist with a gap analysis, to determine what you need to do to comply. Call our Rod Berry to discuss the services we provide in this area.