Harmonisation of WA OH & S Laws
From 1 January 2012, new OHS legislation came into effect attempting to standardise all current state and territory level regulations. OHS regulation in Australia has always been controlled by the state and territory governments meaning the laws differs within each jurisdiction. Western Australia is still yet to sign up to the harmonised legislation
Harmonisation was an attempt to standardise all OHS rules and legislation across the country. This will help employers understand their legal obligations better and ensure worker’s rights are protected.
OHS Harmonisation means national uniformity of OHS legislative framework (comprised of model OHS Act, supported by model OHS legislations and model codes of practice) complemented by nationally consistent approach to compliance and enforcement policy.
At the start of 2012, Queensland, New South Wales, the ACT and the Commonwealth began operating under the harmonised OHS system. Legislation is still before the Parliaments of Tasmania and South Australia. However, the Liberal governments of Victoria and Western Australia have to date resisted the move towards uniform laws.
Occupational Health and Safety Agencies
There are a number different agencies who oversee occupational health and safety in Western Australia. All have separate areas of jurisdiction within Western Australia.
These agencies are WorkSafe WA, Resources Safety, National Office Petroleum Safety Administration (NOPSEMA) and Comcare.
WorkSafe is the WA Government Agency responsible for health and safety in WA Workplaces. The vast majority of workers in WA are covered by WorkSafe.
WorkSafe enforces the Occupational Health and Safety Act and has the power to inspect work sites and investigate health and safety breaches.
UnionsWA has three representatives on the Commission for Occupational Health and Safety and they work hard to argue for best practice laws and regulations and to ensure a genuine voice for workers.
Workers in the Resources Industry as well as workers in some port operations are covered by this agency.
Comcare is responsible for Australian Government employees including defence and other federal public servants as well as organisations that self-insure under the scheme.
A list of current self-insured organisations can be found here.
National Office Petroleum Safety Administration
The National Office Petroleum Safety Administration is responsible for all offshore areas within commonwealth waters.
Health and Safety Representatives
Why do workers need to be represented by safety and health representatives in the workplace?
In October 1995, the government changed the Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Act so that occupational safety and health matters could not be dealt with as an industrial issue. The Industrial Relations Commission cannot deal with workplace safety and health issues. This change placed a far greater emphasis on the role of a safety and health representative in a workplace.
Occupational safety and health representatives have powers to perform their role under the law. This is in contrast to the role played by union delegates. Safety and Health representatives’ rights are listed in sections 33 and 35 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.
Safety and health representatives are key players on safety committees and must comprise at least 50% of the committee. They also have the ability to issue provisional improvement notices (PINS). Representatives have a significant role in the resolution of issues in the workplace.
At this point in history it is particularly important for unions to continue to establish and maintain a substantial role in the workplace. Worker surveys conducted throughout Australia consistently show OH&S as one of the highest rated priorities for workers.