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Farm group targets tough workplace safety stance

THE State Government has responded to the Laing Report on Occupational Safety and Health by drafting legislation aimed at imposing harsher penalties on those who neglect their OSH responsibilities.

Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke welcomed the $75,000 fine given to agricultural company Edlers Hycube following the death last year of a 20-year-old woman in a machinery accident, but said the draft legislation would address the issue further.

WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl, however, believes the current fines alone are more than sufficient.

Mr Nicholl said the current fines leaned towards being too heavy and were out of step with fines imposed in other social situations.

“The majority of the Occu-pational Safety and Health fines are being driven by social engineers and run the risk of going over the top.

“The important thing is, we need to be able to determine the difference between accidents an negligence.”

The Gallop Government’s new draft legislation proposes to take the maximum fines to $625,000, the second highest in the country.

“I find it totally unacceptable that 10 West Australians have been killed at work in 2003, and increased penalties will be part of our ongoing campaign to lower this tragic toll,” Mr Kobelke said.

The draft legislation also proposes that imprisonment be introduced as a sentencing option in cases where “gross negligence” has resulted in serious harm or death.

But Mr Nicholl said the State Government’s focus was misdirected and that the threat of a fine was not the most effective way to combat unsafe working conditions.

“The onus should equally be on the employee and employers, in order to maintain the correct amount of responsibility, in creating a safe workplace,” he said.

“If employers are always held accountable it generates a careless attitude among workers, as they neglect to take any on-the-spot initiatives in regards to workplace safety.”

Mr Nicholl acknowledges that the State Government has taken a serious approach to occupational health and safety, but said it ran the risk of becoming too harsh.

“I think the department needs to be careful when regulations come up for review every five years, as they run the risk of becoming overly punitive,” he said.

“All individuals need to be mindful enough in keeping themselves out of danger.

“There is an overemphasis in government regulations to put total responsibility on employers and relieve employees of it all.”

Mr Nicholl said the regulations neglected to take a hard line on alcohol and drug use in the workplace.

“Another issue that I see is that regulations are going very soft on problems of drug and alcohol use in the workplace,” he said.

“Employers are often in a very difficult situation, as they do not want to be accused of unfair dismissal, and this is not often addressed.”

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