New OHS laws mark big changes for WA industry

New OHS laws mark big changes for WA industry

WA is preparing for the first major changes to work health and safety legislation in decades, bringing the State into line with other parts of Australia.

Western Australia took a long time to act on new occupational health and safety legislation designed to modernise and unify cross-industry practices around the country.

In fact, it has been some eight years since Safe Work Australia released its Model Work Health and Safety Act. The intention was to provide harmonised WHS minimum standards nationally, however WA’s State Government only announced in 2017 that it would introduce new legislation that would be “substantially based on the Model WHS Bill”.

The new legislation will replace the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994, and Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Safety Levies Act 2011.  The new WHS Act will serve as an umbrella for all industries, and will be accompanied by three sets of regulations to cover all industry, mining and petroleum. Those regulations are currently open for public consultation until 26 November 2019.

According to Dr Marcus Cattani, Senior Lecturer in Occupational Health and Safety at Edith Cowan University and Chair of the WA branch of the Australian Institute of Health and Safety, there are significant changes ahead for many sectors.

However, Dr Cattani says while recent headlines have focused on proposed harsh new penalties, many of the changes will be beneficial.

“One of the requirements is for organisations to have a Safety Management System in place,” Dr Cattani said.

“The good news, particularly in the mining and energy sectors, is that many organisations are already using such systems. There’s a requirement in the new legislation that organisations undertake some due diligence to verify the effectiveness of their Safety Management Systems, so it will be interesting to see how they rate.

“The major players in the WA mining and energy sectors have been world leaders in catastrophic risk management for some years and that has been passed down in many cases to service and supply companies working with the sectors. Now a similar approach is intended to be adopted across industry.

“We see an over-representation of safety incidents affecting certain sectors such as agriculture and forestry, contractors, smaller organisations and groups such as younger workers. The whole point of updated legislation is to design effective controls in association with all those involved and monitor their effectiveness.”

EPE Managing Director Peter Gardner says the company made a conscious decision to implement a Safety Management System and focus on managing risks about five years ago.

“While we weren’t performing poorly by any means, EPE’s senior team recognised that as the business grew, there was potential for risks to increase,” Peter said.

“We engaged an external safety consultancy to help us work through a broad range of factors, some of which we didn’t realise were directly related to improving safety outcomes.

“We implemented software and were able to collate data and implement new learnings as we moved to new premises, expanded our service offerings and brought on new staff.

“One of the things that has become apparent through this process is that safety is far more than just a necessary function in the sort of environment we have here, as it actually gets everyone thinking about their wellbeing and has benefits across the business.

“Everyone knows they have the right – and the duty – to report any potential safety hazards and that has increased awareness of the small things that could go wrong.

“People are far more conscious of keeping work areas clean and clear, and it’s had a knock-on effect that’s resulted in us adjusting our approach to sales and service, which customers appreciate and understand.”

Dr Cattani says when safety is treated as a core aspect of any business strategy, positive outcomes can be recognised across many areas.

“One of the big benefits is that when workers feel safe and know they have the right to make decisions about their wellbeing, their job satisfaction increases,” he said.

“So while some businesses may be in for a period of adjustment when the new legislation comes into effect, it is a contemporary approach to safety management and is likely to see a lot of benefits for businesses that embrace it.”

Dr Cattani urged anyone with an interest or concerns to review the various regulations, available on the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety website, or to contact their industry associations or unions to find out about potential unified responses.