Quality and consistency through collaboration

The Education and Employment References Committee established by the Federal Senate has tabled a report setting out the findings of its inquiry into Australia’s framework for the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths.

The 135-page report provides the Committee’s recommendations for improvement of Australia’s harmonised workplace safety legislation. In view of the fact that that a number of these recommendations could be adopted as part of the harmonised WHS laws, the Committee’s report is worthy of attention.

The recommendations include:

  • a veto on corporations that repeatedly breach work health and safety (WHS) obligations and cause death or serious injury being awarded Commonwealth, State or Territory Government contracts
  • updating the model WHS framework to cover “precarious and non-standard working arrangements (including labour hire)”
  • an increase in the funding of regulators with a view to achieving “high quality investigations of industrial deaths and other serious breaches of WHS laws”
  • the introduction of a nationally consistent industrial manslaughter offence and a dedicated WHS prosecutor in each jurisdiction (similar to the model introduced in Queensland)
  • the introduction of amendments that would allow unions, injured workers and their families to bring prosecutions, and
  • the introduction of an amendment of the definition of executive officer to “better reflect the capacity of individuals to affect health and safety outcomes“.

Insurance contracts

The recommendations made by the report also cover insurance policies. The Committee was strongly opposed to insurance policies that insure against financial penalties handed down for breaches of WHS legislation. It recommended that the model WHS Act be amended to make it unlawful to insure against fines, investigation costs and defence costs pertaining to alleged breaches of WHS laws.

Next steps

The Committee has urged Marie Boland to take the recommendations into consideration when she provides her final independent review report to Safe Work Australia by the end of 2018, and to WHS ministers in early-2019.

You can access the full version of the report here.

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