11/05/2020 - 15:55

Safety summit on the way

11/05/2020 - 15:55

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UPDATED: The state government has called an “urgent” summit of farm leaders to discuss workplace safety, at a time when a broad coalition of industry groups have been pushing to halt controversial changes planned to its Work Health and Safety legislation.

Safety summit on the way
Bill Johnston says the farm safety summit is the first in a series. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

UPDATED: The state government has called an “urgent” summit of farm leaders to discuss workplace safety, at a time when a broad coalition of industry groups have been pushing to halt controversial changes planned to its Work Health and Safety legislation.

The groups invited to the farm safety summit include WAFarmers and The Pastoralists & Graziers Association of WA.

They were among 16 industry groups that wrote to Premier Mark McGowan in March, expressing extreme concern about the proposed new offences of industrial manslaughter in the Work Health and Safety Bill 2019.

The Bill specifies a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and fines of up to $10 million.

Industry groups have also expressed concern about the lack of consultation over the draft Bill, which was presented to parliament in November last year.

Asked about the timing of the farm safety summit, Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston said it was the latest in a series of events.

“We’ve invested in a pipeline of events to raise awareness of this issue and this is the next step,” Mr Johnston told Business News.

Worksafe data shows the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector has had the highest number of workplace deaths in Western Australia.

It recorded 18 deaths in the five financial years since 2014-15, followed by construction (15) and mining (13), which are much larger industries.

The minister said the agriculture industry paid around $55 million in workers’ compensation premiums each year, with an average premium rate three times the all-industry rate and double the next highest industry (transport).

“The high cost of workers’ compensation in the agricultural sector demonstrates their safety culture is inadequate,” he said.

“Not only are farm workers and their family subject to working on dangerous farm sites, it’s also costing the industry excessive amounts of money.

“It’s time for the farming industry to improve their culture, this will save lives and money.

“I look forward to meeting with the farming groups to discuss how we can improve safety on site.” 

PGA policy officer Doug Wood, who will attend the summit with PGA president Tony Seabrook, welcomed the opportunity to meet with the minister and discuss the issue of safety.

The Work Health and Safety Bill include two new offences.

Industrial manslaughter class one will carry a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment for an individual conducting or undertaking a business.

Industrial manslaughter class two will carry a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for negligent behaviour.

The new offences will also carry a fine of up to $10 million for a company, or body corporate.

The planned laws follow significant increases in penalties introduced in 2018.

Industry groups are concerned about the low standard of proof required to prosecute under section 30B, which does not require gross negligence, negligence or recklessness

They also say the Bill excludes all employees, which breaks the accepted safety culture that safety is everyone’s responsibility.

The total number of workplace fatalities has fallen by 62 per cent nationally since 2007.

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