Consultation begins on work health and safety reforms

SA Gov

The Government has today released a consultation paper outlining potential reforms to work health and safety laws arising from the recommendations of an independent review of SafeWork SA, including new powers to deal with health and safety disputes and right of entry breaches.

The independent review of SafeWork SA was conducted by former WorkSafe Victoria executive director Mr John Merritt and released earlier this year. The review received a wide range of input from stakeholders including business groups, trade unions, victims’ advocates, and health and safety professionals.

The review recommended changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, including giving workers and their representatives the ability to pursue civil legal proceedings for breaches of work health and safety duties as an alternative to criminal prosecutions by SafeWork SA.

The consultation paper released by the Government includes a potential model to implement this recommendation, as well as stronger powers for businesses to deal with rogue behaviour relating to the misuse of right of entry powers, in order to ensure a fair and balanced work health and safety system.

Under the consultation paper released by the Government:

*The South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) – the state’s independent industrial umpire – would be given the power to deal with disputes about health and safety breaches, on top of existing right of entry dispute powers.

*A person could refer a health and safety dispute to SAET if they reasonably believed there was a breach of work health and safety laws resulting in a serious risk to health and safety to a person.

*If the dispute cannot be resolved through alternative dispute resolution processes such as conciliation or mediation, a person can apply for the SAET to impose a civil penalty for a breach of work health and safety laws.

*Contraventions would be assessed on the civil standard of the balance of probabilities, and the maximum penalty for a contravention would be $100,000 for a corporation and $10,000 for an individual – significantly less than existing criminal penalties under work health and safety laws.

*Simultaneously, businesses would be given the ability to apply to the SAET to impose civil penalties on unions and officials for breaching orders dealing with a right of entry dispute.

*The SAET would also be given new powers to take into account whether a union had a significant history of right of entry breaches, making a declaration removing the union’s ability to bring civil penalty proceedings, placing the union under closer scrutiny by SafeWork SA, and making it easier to revoke right of entry permits for future right of entry breaches.

The model outlined in this consultation paper is designed to promote a culture of accountability where all stakeholders in the work health and safety system are able to hold each other responsible for meeting their duties and obligations under the law.

The consultation paper will be available on the SafeWork SA website for public comment until 10 November 2023.

As put by Kyam Maher

Every worker in South Australia deserves the right to come home safely to their families and loved ones at the end of every working day.

The reforms we are beginning consultation on will help keep workers safe by encouraging health and safety disputes to be sorted out at an early stage, before injuries and workplace deaths can occur.

These reforms will also help preserve South Australia’s harmonious industrial relations environment, by providing stronger powers to deal with any potential misuse of entry rights.

These reforms will allow health and safety disputes to be sorted out more quickly, at a lower cost, and with significant lower potential penalties for businesses, rather than relying on serious criminal prosecutions alone.

These reforms were recommended by an independent review of South Australia’s work health and safety system, which received significant input from business groups, trade unions, victim’s advocates, and health and safety professionals.

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