PROPOSED changes to the Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 (Act) have been introduced into Queensland Parliament. This comes off the back of the Best Practice Review of Workplace Health and Safety Queensland conducted by former ACTU Assistant Secretary Tim Lyons at the behest of the Queensland Government.

The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill was tabled by Minister Grace after considering a review driven by the deaths of four people at Dreamworld theme park last year and the earlier deaths of two workers at Eagle Farm racecourse.

The creation of a new offence of industrial manslaughter within the Act is central to the legislative changes.

Additionally, the Bill, if adopted, will:

  • require a review every five years of codes of practice operating in Queensland;
  • increase reporting requirements of persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU);
  • prohibit the issuing of enforceable undertaking for Category 1 and 2 offences that result in a fatality (as well as the industrial manslaughter offence);
  • provide an avenue of appeals for WHS decisions to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC);
  • establish a statutory office of a WHS prosecutor;
  • mandate prescribed training for HSR’s;
  • provide capacity for appointment of WHS officers (which will be subject to training standards) as a demonstration of duties being met.

AMMA recently reported that what began as a review into regulator best practice had branched into legislative reform on the run, with the Queensland Government at that time indicating that they intended to adopt the “interim recommendation” announced by Tim Lyons of a new offence of industrial manslaughter.

The independent review was conducted by Mr Lyons with input from a tripartite reference group including employer and employee representatives. In April this year, Minister Grace issued a press release confirming:

“Tim will be supported by a tripartite reference group which will include two technical experts and representatives from key organisations such as the Australian Industry Group, Master Builders Queensland, the Queensland Council of Unions, the Australian Workers Union, and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council,”

“There will also be input from other government agencies and interested groups.”

The 58 recommendations arising out of the review were supported in full by the Government except for two that have been referred to the WHS Board for further consideration.

The newly-created offence of industrial manslaughter increases the current maximum penalties provided under the Act from five to 20 years’ jail for individuals, and corporate fines from $3 million to $10 million.

The offences will also be included in in the state’s Electrical Safety Act 2002 and Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011. The proposal to introduce the offence of industrial manslaughter in WHS legislation (as distinct from criminal legislation) differs from that which has been introduced or proposed to be introduced in other Australian jurisdictions.

Ms Grace claimed most of the recommendations related to “operational improvements” for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland or the WHS Board.

The Bill was referred to the Finance and Administration Committee for consideration and report by Thursday 5 October 2017.

The closing date for written submissions is Thursday 14 September 2017.

The Committee page provides further information and details on how to make a submission.

Implications for resource sector 

Many resource sector sites in Queensland, such as mining, are subject to specific legislation (i.e Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999), will not be directly impacted by these proposed changes. However, the changes will impact AMMA members not impacted by industry specific WHS legislation.

Changes made by individual states in response to specific incidences, outside of the harmonised review process and before current investigations and proceedings are concluded, are, in AMMA’s view, premature. While many of the changes will not necessarily effect resource industry site operations where industry specific legislation applies, there may be an appetite to extend changes further than the current proposal.

It has long been AMMA’s position that work health and safety at the workplace is a shared responsibility. Resource sector employers strive to address any safety concerns and innovate within their own workforces and are consistently challenging themselves and their employees to improve. Introducing new offences, focusing on penalties rather than fostering improvement, does not create safer workplaces and does not support a safety culture of broader workforce buy in.

Additionally, expanding the jurisdiction of the QIRC, where there is no current deficiency, is perplexing. Initial determinations around safety should be made at the workplace level with the assistance of trained WHS inspectors. The capacity to involve a third party industrial umpire, at a very early stage, may result in further disputation rather than provide any effective resolution.

AMMA invites members to provide feedback on the proposed changes by contacting Head of Policy, Sarah Cerche at [email protected]