After nearly four weeks of debate, the McGowan Government’s Work Health and Safety (WHS) Bill passed the Legislative Council last night.
It will now be sent to the Legislative Assembly for the final vote, which is expected on November 3, and will become law once the supporting regulations are finalised next year.
The new laws will offer greater protection to Western Australian workers, capturing modern employment relationships, such as subcontractors or casual workers, not just the classic employer/employee relationship. In particular, they will introduce the term ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’.
As a result of significant public concern and the recommendations of two national reviews, the new legislation includes criminalising industrial manslaughter – this includes a maximum penalty of between five and 20 years of imprisonment for an individual and a maximum $10 million fine for a body corporate.
Other new aspects include increased penalties, prohibiting insurance coverage for WHS penalties and the introduction of enforceable undertakings as an alternative penalty.
The new laws will harmonise WA with other States and Territories, except Victoria, although amendments have been made to tailor the laws to reflect our unique State.
This means companies that operate across Australia will have similar obligations and requirements in each State and Territory.
This Bill follows the increases in workplace penalties the McGowan Government introduced in October 2018:
- Level 4 (the highest) offences attract a maximum $2.7 million penalty for first offenders and $3.5 million for subsequent offenders (up from $500,000 and $625,000 respectively); and
- Level 1 (least severe) penalties increased from $50,000 to $450,000 for first offenders and from $62,500 to $570,000 for subsequent offences.
As stated by Premier Mark McGowan:
“I’m very pleased that the Work Health and Safety Bill has finally passed the Upper House.
“This important Bill modernises Western Australia’s outdated workplace safety laws, which were over 30 years old.
“The health and safety of Western Australian workers is one of my Government’s key priorities; every worker has the right to come home safely from work each day.”
As stated by Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston:
“This new legislation brings together all industries, general, mining and petroleum, into one Work Health and Safety Act, but with separate regulations, this will assist WA businesses with their safety obligations.
“It reflects the social obligations and responsibilities the community now expects from companies and their senior management, including that mental health and wellbeing needs to be considered alongside physical safety.
“I’m very pleased that we have significantly increased the maximum penalties available to the courts for companies and directors responsible for workplace tragedies.
“This will act as a deterrent and ensure all workplaces focus on improving safety culture.”