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Legislative Changes in Australia for Workplace Health and Safety

25/08/2022by minal.metkari0Read: 4 minutes
Legislative Changes in Australia for Workplace Health and Safety

Australia saw some significant legislative changes in the last three months as regulatory bodies strive to enhance workplace health and safety.

Here is our blog for you to glance at the top legislative changes in Australia that aim to safeguard workers’ health and boost workplace health and safety across various industries.

1. NSW Workers Compensation Act 1987 – Amendment Bill 2021

An amendment bill (Workers Compensation Amendment Bill 2021) was passed on 21 February 2022 to abolish presumptive rights to Workers Compensation for employees who contract COVID-19 and to make a related amendment to an instrument.

In May 2020, a new section 19B was introduced to the Act. The section deemed any worker who contracts the virus is automatically considered to have done so during their employment, which triggers an entitlement to Workers Compensation. Where an employer wishes to dispute this deemed liability, the onus is on them to prove that the worker acquired the virus elsewhere. However, with the lack of contact tracing, it is not possible to identify if the virus has been contracted at work or elsewhere. Hence, the decision to remove this section from the Workers Compensation Act.

Newest Report on Workers Compensation compares arrangements in Australia and New Zealand

The report compares significant aspects of the workers’ compensation schemes in Australia and New Zealand, including – benefits, coverage, dispute resolution, return to work provisions, and cross-border arrangements.

2. WA – Western Australia’s Work Health and Safety Act 2020

WA – Western Australia’s Work Health and Safety Act 2020 is a new set of workplace health and safety laws harmonizing WA with most Australian states.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2020(WA) (WHS Act) was passed through parliament in 2020 and came into effect on 31 March 2022. With the passing of the new Act, employers are expected to ‘hit the ground running in compliance with the new laws.

3. WA -Workplace Behaviour Code of Practice (New)

The Workplace Behaviour Code of Practice focuses on the general principles that are applied to prevent and manage improper or unreasonable behaviour in the workplace.

The Workplace behaviour Code of Practice intends to provide practical guidance for workplaces where people can be exposed to different forms of inappropriate or unreasonable workplace behaviour including bullying, harassment, violence and aggression, discrimination and misconduct.

4. VIC – Occupational Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2021(VIC) – Labour Hire and Insurance

The Occupational Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (VIC) (Vic Amendment Act) was amended on 21 September 2021.

It gives clarity on the insurance cover for labour-hire workers and prohibits insurance or indemnity of WHS penalties in Victoria.

a) Insurance of WHS Penalties Wrap-up

Below we have shared the recent legislative changes in various states and territories, including industrial manslaughter and insurance for WHS fines.

  1. Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria prohibit insurance or indemnity against a WHS fine or penalty.
  1. The Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Northern Territory, and South Australia haven’t yet prohibited insurance for WHS penalties.

b) Labour-Hire

The Vic Amendment Act aims to ensure labour-hire workers have the same rights and safety protections as others.

Furthermore, also essential that the labour-hire providers and host employers consult. coordinate and cooperate on their shared responsibility to ensure the safety of labour-hire workers. Any breach of this duty is punishable and amounts to a fine of around $32,713 for individuals and $163,566 for corporate businesses.

Prohibiting Insurance or Indemnity

The Vic Amendment Act prohibits individuals and businesses from entering a contract that insures or indemnifies them against paying monetary penalties under workplace safety laws. Under the Vic Amendment Act’s section 148A, such insurance or indemnity arrangements are considered to be inoperative.

Enterprises and Australian businesses can be fined up to $300,000 if found signing insurance contracts for workplace health and safety fines. Entering, offering to enter, or holding such a contract will incur penalties of up to $54,522 for individuals and $272,610 for a corporate body (as of 1 July 2021).

This will discourage organisations, businesses, and individuals from mitigating financial liability for breaches of workplace safety laws and encourage organisations to take proactive steps to protect workers.

5. Managing Psychological Hazards with Management System Standards

The OHS/WHS Act defines ‘health’ as including psychological health. This means the duty to ensure health and safety extend to workers’ emotional and mental health.

A tool businesses can use is the ISO 45003:2021

a) Occupational Health and Safety Management – Psychological Health and Safety at work – Guidelines for Managing Psychosocial Risks

ISO 45003 standard gives guidelines for managing psychosocial risk within the occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system based on ISO 45001. It enables businesses to prevent work-related injury and ill health of their workers and other interested parties and to promote well-being at work.

It applies to all organisations irrespective, and continual improvement of healthy and safe workplaces.

Psychosocial Risk Assessment Tool  

b) New model WHS Regulations and Code of Practice to help prevent psychological harm at work

The new model for work health and safety (WHS) laws now includes regulations on psychosocial hazards. A new model Code of Practice on Managing psychosocial hazards at work explains the laws and how to comply with them. It also includes practical steps to manage workplace risks to psychological health.

6. WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW team up for Construction Safety

WorkSafe Victoria and SafeWork NSW have collaborated to assist employers and tradespeople in Mildura and Buronga in reducing the risks of falls, crystalline silica, and other construction safety hazards during a week-long safety blitz targeting residential construction sites from 22 to 26 August 2022.

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