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Government targets OHS

INDUSTRY is facing widespread changes to occupational safety and health laws in a continuing effort by the WA Government to reduce the number of workplace injuries and deaths.

Proposed changes to WA occupational safety and health laws will be before parliament in the spring session following a review of the State’s Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and the Mines Safety Inspection Act 1994 by former Australian Industrial Relations Commissioner Robert Laing.

The review’s 107 recommendations have also spawned administrative and policy changes, in particular for the construction, transport and mining industries.

Under the proposed reforms, maximum penalties for duty of care breaches could more than triple, from $200,000 to $625,000.

A new warning system will be introduced, whereby Provisional Improvement Notices can be issued to an employer for suspected safety breaches.

Eight new WorkSafe inspectors will be appointed this financial year, with a further 12 to be appointed in the following two years.

Changes are also planned for the role and composition of the WorkSafe Commission, and the Mines Occupational Safety and Health Advisory Committee format.

Consumer and Employment Protection Minister John Kobelke is also looking at establishing a new Safety and Health Tribunal under the Industrial Relations Commission.

The number of deaths and injuries in the WA construction industry has been of particular concern, and from September new regulations covering crane operations and elevating work platforms could be in force.

The work platform changes cover maintenance, operation and inspection aspects, as specified by designers or manufacturers.

Other changes are in the wind, with proposed tilt-up construction reforms before an industry committee and chrysolite asbestos scheduled for a national phase-out by the end of the year.

Earlier this month new regulations came into effect for commercial vehicle operators.

The changes are designed to reduce fatigue hazards by enforcing mini-mum break times.

In addition, the Government is conducting a vehicle driver fatigue campaign and developing a new industry code of practice.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Tim Shanahan said the chamber was cautious about some changes, in particular not wanting industrial relations issues to be confused with health and safety issues.

In that regard it would be better not to have occupational safety and health people on the Safety and Health Tribunal that is to come under the auspices of the Industrial Relations Commission, he said.

“If remedies for occupational safety and health offences go too far, it could be detrimental for free and open information exchange,” Mr Shanahan said.

The CME would also prefer to keep both mining safety and health policy and the mines safety inspectorate within the one government department, the Department of Industry and Resources, rather than have the former covered by the WorkSafe Commission and the latter by DoIR.

The Government has recognised the CME’s concern and is allocating a CME place and a mining-related union position on the WorkSafe Commission.

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