Workplace Health and Safety Bill a significant step for reforms in WA

Today’s introduction of the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Bill into Parliament is a significant milestone for Western Australia’s WHS legislative reforms. No workplace death is acceptable, which is why health and safety is the WA resources sector’s highest priority and CME and its members have invested considerable effort in these reforms.

CME has been closely engaged with and supportive of the McGowan Government’s single Act approach to the reforms and has also welcomed the commitment to sector specific regulations which would enable the continuity of industry specific risk management approaches. The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA’s (CME) Chief Executive Paul Everingham said it is pleasing to see that a number of critical recommendations made by industry have been adopted in the Bill. 

“The decision to not include the WHS entry provisions in the Bill is a positive step that recognises WA and Federal industrial relations legislation already provides a pathway for WHS entry,” said Mr Everingham.

“We are also pleased with the government’s decision to remove the proposed powers for unions to bring prosecutions, a regulatory power which would have significantly undermined the integrity of the WA WHS regulator. The recent announcement to instead increase resourcing to WorkSafe WA by funding more than 20 new inspectors will be far more effective in preventing health and safety incidents.”

The Bill also includes two new offences for industrial manslaughter, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for an individual and a fine of $10 million for a body corporate. This is a significant late change.

CME appreciates the government is working to tight timeframes to progress these reforms, however it is disappointing the drafting of such significant provisions as industrial manslaughter wasn’t consulted on before its introduction to parliament. Mr Everingham said it is critical these provisions are given detailed consideration by CME members through the parliamentary process to ensure there are no unintended consequences.

“While acknowledging there needs to be consequences for offences, an over-emphasis on punitive enforcement and compliance is not in the best interest of achieving better safety and health outcomes. Poorly considered or rushed introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence could have unintended consequences which impair, rather than enhance, health and safety outcomes,”
added Mr Everingham. 

As a matter of priority, CME will now work to review these provisions with its members, as well as the broader content of the Bill to consider the late changes in full.

CME believes that WHS law should facilitate the creation of a collaborative workplace culture that puts an emphasis on the reporting and dissemination of information, allowing people to freely report incidents, and in doing so learn from these incidents. Punitive offences could discourage the free flow of communication due to a fear of prosecution, resulting in less reporting and potentially more injuries and fatalities.

The objective of these reforms must continue to focus on ensuring the regulatory environment delivers the highest level of protection for the workforce, supports a best practice risk based approach to managing workplace hazards, and facilitate continuous improvement across all areas of safety and health.

CME looks forward to continuing to work with the Government on activities that will be meaningful in preventing incidents, to move beyond punitive compliance approaches, and drive positive cultural change and proactively lift health and safety standards.