15/12/2021 - 14:05

WHS reforms postponed

15/12/2021 - 14:05

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The state government has delayed implementation of its contentious Work Health and Safety Act 2020 to give itself more time to complete the necessary regulations.

WHS reforms postponed
Industrial relations minister Stephen Dawson. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The state government has delayed implementation of its contentious Work Health and Safety Act 2020 to give itself more time to complete the necessary regulations.

Industrial relations minister Stephen Dawson told parliament today that drafting the WHS regulations has been a very complex process.

The government now expects to have exposure drafts of the WHS regulations online and publicly available in late December.

As a result, the transition to the new laws, originally scheduled for January 2022, is expected to be completed in March 2022.

The new Act was assented to by the Governor in November last year but can only be proclaimed after the accompanying regulations have been completed.

The new laws will bring together work health and safety for general industry, mines and petroleum operations under a single WHS Act.

However, each sector needs its own set of regulations.

Mills Oakley WHS and crisis management special counsel Daniel Hill said the delay would give businesses more time to understand the impending changes.

These include due diligence obligations on officers and workers, a broader definition of employer, a wider array of recognised employee arrangements, a prohibition on insurance for monetary penalties, and specific duties for providers of WHS consulting services.

“That’s just the more general changes,” he said.

“There are far more specific changes occurring across all three sets of general, mining and petroleum regulations, which business is simply not across at present.”

Mr Hill said the business sector “hasn’t really swallowed the pill at the moment”.

“The regulator is looking for business to move into a ‘whole of business’ risk management approach,” he said.

MinterEllison partner Kathy Reid said the delay will be a relief to most people.

"Our clients are extremely busy dealing with COVID related health directions and employer mandates, so the prospect of the regulations being released with little time for consultation was concerning," she said.

"Hopefully the delay will mean the end product is better considered and industry better prepared to implement it, which will be welcome."

The new Act includes a big increase in penalties for WHS breaches.

It also introduces a new offence of industrial manslaughter, for which company directors and officers can be jailed.

While this attracted strong opposition from some business groups, the current Act also allows for the jailing of company officers.

In May this year, MT Sheds (WA) director Mark Thomas Withers became the first person to be jailed in WA under workplace safety laws.

Mr Dawson said information and educational material about the proposed laws is already available on the website of the Department of Mines Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS).

He added the government is partnering with peak employee and employer bodies to ensure a wide distribution of information about the WHS laws.

Mr Dawson said the government has provided further funding for additional DMIRS investigators, inspectors; and legal, policy, communication and administrative officers with the aim of improved compliance under the WHS laws. 

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