Australia’s WHS ministers have agreed to amend the model WHS Regulations to prescribe control measures for psychological risks, and significantly increase safety penalties. However, proposed industrial manslaughter laws did not receive the required majority vote.
The ministers had convened to discuss a range of important issues impacting the work health and safety of Australians, and to consider the recommendations from the review of the model WHS laws undertaken by Marie Boland.
On the recommendation to introduce industrial manslaughter laws nationally – the states that already have these laws, or are in the process of enacting them, supported the move. These were the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria. However, the recommendation did not receive the required 6 votes.
The ministers unanimously agreed to introduce gross negligence or equivalent as a fault element in the Category 1 offence in the model WHS Act.
They also agreed that conduct involving gross negligence should attract more severe penalties under the model WHS laws, and will be a step towards improving prosecution rates for Category 1 offences.
The ministers also noted that this is in keeping with the risk-based approach of WHS laws, and agreed to further consider significant increases to penalties under the model WHS laws.
The psychological risk amendments were agreed to in a majority vote.
It was noted that a number of jurisdictions are already taking action and finalising Codes of Practice or Regulations relating to psychological health which would provide guidance to employers about complying with their duties under WHS laws and better protect workers from risks of psychological harm.
The ACTU said the vote to regulate psychosocial hazards was a huge step forward for the prevention of mental illness and towards addressing sexual harassment and gendered violence in the workplace.
ACTU Assistant Secretary Liam O’Brien said regulation on psychosocial hazards will place a positive obligation on employers to minimise and eliminate hazards to mental health from the workplace – just as they are required to in relation to physical hazards.
“Australia was one of the only developed nations in the world to not have equal protections for physical and mental health and safety, the decision taken yesterday will bring us up to date.”
“Up to 45 percent of mental health issues are attributable to work – requiring employers to take preventative action on this is a massive step forward. This will include tackling the causes of sexual harassment at work, a key step in making work safe for women.”
O’Brien also noted that the fight to introduce industrial manslaughter laws nationally was not over.
“We will continue to fight for industrial manslaughter legislation. Workplaces in Tasmania, SA and NSW would be safer for workers if employers could be held accountable for preventable deaths. It should not matter what postcode your loved one dies in as to whether you receive justice.”
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