Safety penalties to save lives

UnionsWA has welcomed the announcement today by the McGowan Government to increase penalties for those that break WA work health and safety laws, which protect the vast majority of working West Australians.

Owen Whittle, Assistant Secretary, UnionsWA said:

“For years now, WA has had the weakest penalties in Australia for those that break our work health and safety laws.

“Those who are injured or killed through work, as well as their families, are as harmed as any victim of crime.

“Making WA's ​penalties to be amongst the strongest in the country sends a message to those that flaunt our laws - doing so is unacceptable and we take safety seriously.

“This reform will save lives and prevent injury.

“While penalties are important, they are not enough.

“We’ve seen the big banks across Australia breaking laws and willing to pay huge penalties.

“As WA moves to repair the budget mess left by the previous government, there must be a priority given to reversing the cuts to WorkSafe. 

“There’s no point having tough laws without policing those laws.

“At present the heavy-lifting on work health and safety is carried by unions to protect all working people.

“Of course, every one – working people, management, even customers and the public - across every workplace must share responsibility for supporting whistle-blowers, ensuring that every workplace has an occupational health and safety representative and enforcing stronger safety laws.

“At present employers can dodge their responsibilities in too many ways – insuring themselves against fines for breaking the law being among these.

“How can that be reasonable?

“It’s a “get-out-of-goal-free card that, in effect, means employers face no penalty for breaking the law and, more importantly, allowing employers to evade their responsibility for ensuring a safety and healthy workplace for their workforce and the public. 

“At the same time funding cuts to WorkSafe WA mean that it’s prevention role has been dramatically eroded.

“In 2007-08 WorkSafe carried out 12,173 workplace visits, in 2016-17 that had dropped to 7,558[1]

“Over the same period the total workforce in Western Australia increased by 240,000 workers from 1,111,500 in 2007 to 1,351,500 in 2018[2].

“Given the realities of WorkSafe WA cuts, there is a pressing need for unions to have greater access, and have the standing to prosecute breaches of the Act where they put the public or working people at risk.

"Greater penalties are also needed for breaches of the Act, including penalties of industrial manslaughter where it can be proven that a death of a worker was caused by a negligent act."

If you are interested in or concerned about workplace health and safety, see online resources available here.

[1] WorkSafe Division, Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety – questions on notice from public hearing 2 October 2017

[1] 6291.0.55.003 - Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, May 2018


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