Senate Committee Inquiry to Inform Review of WHS Laws

11 April 2018

A recent spate of incidents prompted the Turnbull Government to order the inquiry, which will assess whether the increased use of temporary workers and disparity between Work Health and Safety laws is hindering the prevention of workplace deaths.

The inquiry, conducted by the Education and Employment References Committee, will investigate the “framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia”, with the report due on 20 September 2018.

It was announced on 26 March 2018 and among other related matters, will primarily examine:

  • the “effectiveness and extent of the harmonisation of workplace safety legislation between the states, territories and Commonwealth“;
  • jurisdictional issues where safety investigations cross state borders;
  • issues relating to chains of responsibility between jurisdictions;
  • the efficacy of penalties for offences relating to serious incidents and/or fatalities;
  • the role of employers and unions in creating cultures of safety; and
  • safety implications resulting from the increased use of temporary and labour-hire workers.

Senator James McGrath, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, stressed that the inquiry has received bipartisan support, with all parties being “united on the need to prevent deaths and injuries in the workplace”.

The outcomes will inform Safe Work Australia’s ongoing review of the national model Work Health and Safety laws. Safe Work’s review examines whether the penalties in the model WHS Act, as well as processes relating to legal proceedings for offences, provide an effective deterrence for inadequate work health and safety practices. The review will be completed by WHS Act Independent Reviewer Ms Marie Boland and is due December this year.

It is believed that of particular interest to the Safe Work review will be the Senate Committee’s findings in relation to cross-jurisdictional harmonisation and penalty efficacy.