Relief for many small business owners in WHS review

Common sense has prevailed after industrial manslaughter offences were not widely adopted across the country, in a meeting of Australian Ministers for Work Health and Safety yesterday.

“The meeting of WHS Ministers yesterday in response to a review of the model WHS laws was well overdue,” ACCI’s Director of Safety Jennifer Low said.

“As a member of Safe Work Australia (SWA), ACCI has been actively engaged in the review process since it began in 2018 and we support a majority of the 34 recommendations made in the report and accompanying Decision Regulation Impact Statement.

“However, the industrial manslaughter provisions are wholly unnecessary due to existing criminal provisions and Category 1 penalties by which prosecutions can be made in the event of a workplace fatality.

“The rejection of an industrial manslaughter offence by some Ministers was a relief to the small business community. Nobody should die at work, but jailing ordinary business people for incidents over which they had no direct control is not the answer.

“The recommendation was a departure from the risk-based framework for WHS offences that has to-date seen success through a reduction in serious injuries and fatalities over the last decade. There is no strong evidence base presented to warrant such a significant shift.

“Most importantly, the decision to include gross negligence as a fault element in the Category 1 offence will target the small minority of organisations and persons who act like cowboys engaging in acts endangering others that fall well below the ‘reasonable person’ standard.”

ACCI welcomes common sense recommendations enacted by the Minsiters that seek to update existing guidance material, clarify duties, promote greater national consistency and ensure measures remain relevant to contemporary work practices.

“We are committed to a strong economy that fosters safe, healthy and productive organisations,” Ms Low said.

“However, it is a significant missed opportunity that the focus on WHS legislative solutions fails to address the core issues restricting improvements in the management of mental health and psychosocial risk in the workplace.

“There is confusion between mental health promotion activities and WHS risk compliance activities, a lack of ‘how to’ guidance SMEs can translate to their own context, a lack of expertise and training opportunities to assist businesses on WHS psychosocial risk management approaches versus public health promotion, varying regulator models and a lack of organisational capability.

“Now that WHS Ministers have indicated which recommendations can be progressed, ACCI looks forward to engaging in the considerable work to be done through SWA to achieve the best outcomes for all.”

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