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Employers facing major concerns over work safety

PROPOSED new safety laws for WA have some employer groups running scared.

The WA Government released consultation draft papers on a review of WA’s occupational health and safety laws by former Australian Industrial Relations Commissioner Bob Laing.

Consultation on the draft papers closes on April 5.

The review proposes significant changes to WA’s laws, including new offences and penalties, greater director liability for directors and enhanced powers for health and safety representatives.

It also proposes abolishing the Mines Safety and Inspection Act, making mine site safety the responsibility of WorkSafe.

The mining industry is concerned by this change. It believes its industry has specific issues that cannot be adequately covered by another agency.

There also are concerns that resolution of some workplace safety issues will be drawn into the WA Industrial Relations Commission.

This, it is feared, will bring an adversarial nature to safety concerns – something at odds with the consultative Robens model of self-regulation supported by general duties of care, cooperation and consultation.

The suggestions pertaining to safety and health representatives in the workplace also add to this ‘industrialisation’ of the health and safety process.

The review suggests allowing unions to conduct elections for safety reps.

This is a concern for employers, especially when considered alongside changes proposed to WA’s industrial relations laws that make safety an industrial matter.

New offences of corporate manslaughter and negligently causing serious injury are proposed.

Under WA laws the maximum penalty for breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Act is $200,000.

The review suggests lifting the penalties as high as $5 million – as is proposed in the Victorian system for a corporation found guilty of corporate manslaughter.

It also recommends tightening up provisions that make directors or senior officers of companies personally liable for breaches of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Under the current regime, a company can be convicted of an offence but go into liquidation, leaving nobody accountable. This loophole will be closed.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry director health, safety and workers compensation Anne Bellamy said the chamber had a number of concerns with the Laing report.

“We’ve met with Mr Laing and are confident those concerns will be addressed,” Ms Bellamy said.

She said the chamber was concerned with the “industrialisation” of safety.

“We are concerned with the suggestion that safety matters be heard in the WAIRC. Our view is that safety and industrial matters cannot mix,” Ms Bellamy said.

A Chamber of Minerals and Energy spokesman said his organisation could not support the reviews suggestion that the Mines Safety and Inspection Act be removed.

“We believe that our industry needs special consideration and the Act governing its safety should be kept separate from those governing safety in other industries,” he said.

Combined Small Business Alliance CEO Oliver Moon said attempts within the Laing Report to address small business issues had failed.

“What he is proposing will make the system more bureaucratic,” Mr Moon said.

“While he has turned his mind to small business issues, he has completely missed the reality of small businesses.”

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