Business owners are responsible for work health and safety (WHS), or occupational health and safety (OHS). While codes of practice are already in place as guidelines for employers, WHS laws are constantly evolving and it’s important for employers and OH&S officers to always stay up-to-date with these changes.
We compile some of the top WHS developments from recent news to help keep you updated.
WHS penalty in Victoria set to increase to $3,033,400
The maximum penalty for a company found recklessly endangering a person in a workplace under the Victorian OHS Act has been doubled to more than $3 million (from $1,365,030), higher than the corresponding maximum penalty of $3 million in other harmonised jurisdictions.
The Treasury and Finance Bill was passed by the Victorian Parliament on 23 May 2016. This increase serves as a reminder for VIC employers to ensure their systems are up to the standards expected by the OHS Act.
Bullying conviction under WHS laws a warning to businesses
In June 2016, a Victorian employer was convicted of a criminal offence under WHS laws over the serious and persistent bullying of an apprentice that happened over a two year period.
The bullying included ripping the apprentice’s shorts, smearing plaster across the apprentice’s face and into his eye and ear, regularly calling the apprentice derogatory names, and other inappropriate behaviour. The apprentice suffered anxiety and depression from the physical, verbal, and psychological bullying.
The employer, who ran a carpentry and building maintenance company, was fines $12,500 (of a maximum of $1,075,050) and ordered to pay costs of just under $800 when the Geelong Magistrate’s Court found that he failed to provide a safe system of work, and provide information, training and supervision to its employees in relation to workplace bullying.
The case was unusual in that the employer was convicted under the WHS rather than the Fair Work Commission’s anti-bullying jurisdiction. It shows that WHS regulators will prosecute businesses (and possibly individuals) for bullying in the workplace, and Courts will convict especially if it involves a business culture where bullying is tolerated.
Employers should be on their guard against workplace bullying by treating it like a WHS risk. A good starting point is to start an anti-bullying policy that allows staff to raise concerns about bullying and employers to investigate complaints.
Costs awarded against drug-test employee who doctored doctor’s report
An employee found to have manipulated a doctor’s report to hide a positive drug test was ordered to pay more than $18,000 in full indemnity costs to his employer.
The employee was dismissed from his job as a truck driver after testing positive for amphetamine and methamphetamine during a routine workplace drug and alcohol test.
The employee brought an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission. During court proceedings, the employee gave a statement under oath and provided what he claimed was his doctor’s report, showing a negative result from a urine sample he allegedly conducted immediately after the workplace drug test. The doctor’s report was found to have been doctored.
First category 1 prosecution in South Australia since harmonised WHS laws took effect
A safety company and engineer have been charged for category 1 offences under SA’s WHS Act for ‘reckless conduct’ for the death of a child at the Royal Adelaide Show in 2014.
If convicted, the safety company could be fined up to $3,000,000, while the engineer could be fined up to $300,000 (as a worker) and jailed for up to five years.
Developments in ‘harmonisation’ of the WA WHS regulations
The Department of Commerce released the ‘Work Health and Safety Regulations for Western Australia’ discussion paper on June 1, discussing 132 changes to the harmonised model WHS regulations before they are adopted in Western Australia.
The 37 recommended changes included retaining some of the current Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (WA) that are not contained in the harmonised model regulations, including the prohibition of tobacco smoke in workplaces and the removal of some elements that deal with matters that fall outside WorkSafe WA’s jurisdiction (such as mining).
The proposed changes are aimed at bringing the new regulations more into line with current WA laws, which means national operators would have to invest time in ensuring their safety management systems are consistent with a separate set of safety regulations in WA.
Global changes to WHS Safety Management Systems Standard
The AS/NZS 4801 Occupational Health and Management Systems may soon be replaced by the international ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System Standard in late 2016 or 2017.
Since March, Standards Australia has been voting against the new draft international ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System Standard (ISO Standard) on the grounds that there are still areas that need to be addressed before the ISO Standard can be approved. While Standards Australia is supportive of international work, it was concerned about areas such as the definition of OH&S risk and how consultation should be addressed.
In the meantime, the AS/NZS 4801 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems remains the current standard in Australia.
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