What do the new Queensland WHS laws mean for you?
From 1 January 2012, Queensland will have new WHS laws as part of a national system (although not all states have signed up at this stage). The new laws do not make wholesale changes to the existing system but there are some important features to be aware of:
- There is a broader primary duty on every person conducting a business or undertaking to take all reasonably practicable steps to maintain a safe workplace (but it is not a strict duty to ensure a safe workplace);
- This broad duty rests on employers, self employed persons, principal contractors, persons with effective control of a workplace, designers, manufacturers, suppliers, importers and installers;
- In addition to this broad duty, “officers” have duties to exercise due diligence to ensure the business complies with its duties and may be personally liable for breaches;
- An “officer” is not limited to directors/chief executive officers and includes all persons in a position to influence the conduct of the corporation and extends to officers of clubs and associations;
- Workers still have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety;
- In legal proceedings, the onus of proof is on the prosecution to show that a person failed to do what was reasonably practicable to protect health and safety;
- There are larger penalties of up to 5 years prison and/or $3 million fines for corporations;
- There is a greater emphasis on consultation with other business operators and workers including allowing workers to contribute to WHS decision making;
- There is a greater role for worker elected health and safety representatives (HSRs), including the ability to direct unsafe work to stop.
It is too early to tell how the changes will play out and, as with all new legislation, it may take a year or more to see the practical effects but our initial thoughts are that:
- The motivation of the legislation is to reduce the cost to society (and government budgets) which arises from workplace accidents;
- The government’s intent is that WHS should be a central focus of business operations;
- WHS should be a dynamic and evolving process in a constant state of improvement;
- Whilst documented plans and processes are important, continuous implementation and monitoring are just as important;
- The whole workforce should be involved in an ongoing discussion about WHS;
- The buck will stop with a wider range of persons than was the case previously;
- There are more avenues for lower level enforcement of WHS duties but also greater potential penalties for prosecutions;
- Business operators ignore the increasing WHS trend at their peril;
- Following codes of practice is a good place to start;
- Businesses will need to be careful not to allow themselves to become bogged down in processes without real WHS improvement.