National OHS laws in two years

AUSTRALIA could operate under national occupational health and safety laws in two years after the Workplace Relations Ministers Council approved the new national OHS model on Friday.

Blair Price

Deputy Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard said the OHS reforms would support a productive, streamlined national economy.

The Western Australian government, the only non-Labor government in the country, also supported the majority of recommendations for the national OHS framework.

Independent statutory agency Safe Work Australia is working on refining some of the technical details in the model up to March 2010.

A Safe Work Australia spokesperson told ILN the model would then be made available for public comment, while the new laws were expected to be enacted by December 2011.

The new national framework will replace the 10 principal OHS statutes in Australia which encompass more than 400 OHS regulations and codes of practice.

New South Wales Minerals Council chief executive Dr Nikki Williams welcomed the progress.

“After years of debate, it’s great to finally see our governments – especially here in NSW – supporting changes that will bring together a fragmented system in the national interest,” she said.

“The new national OHS laws will achieve better health and safety outcomes for workers and reduce the burden of red tape on companies, especially those with operations across state borders.

“Zapping red tape liberates employers and employees to focus on continuous improvement and will not lead to a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to safety.

“This process means that state-based mining OHS laws can now be brought into the Model Work Health and Safety Bill. This overarching legislation should then be supported by mining-specific regulations, guidelines and codes.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions is concerned the new framework will reduce the protections Queensland and NSW workers have to take court action and said OHS laws should be strengthened, not watered down.

Access Economics said the benefits from the new model act were not readily quantifiable but expected employers would gain from higher productivity, lower staff turnover and reduced workers compensation premiums.

The consultancy also expects workers will receive better health outcomes due to fewer incidents and lower exposure to occupational risks for disease or injury.

Access said the main costs to business would be learning how to “play by the new rules”

But it did not expect these costs to be significant, noting the model act retained the general duty of care provisions in current OHS acts.

“Further, these costs are unlikely to be greater than the costs of ongoing changes under disparate jurisdictional regimes were the model act not to be introduced.”