Employers: inconsistent WHS laws are making it difficult to do business

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Monday, 7 November, 2022 - 13:00
Policy & legislation
National News

There needs to be an urgent review of the intergovernmental agreement to recommit states and territories to the goal of harmonised legislation, according to business group ACCI.

More than 52 per cent of businesses that participated in a recent ACCI research report operate in more than one jurisdiction, highlighting the need for harmonised work health and safety rules nationally, said Jennifer Low, director of WHS policy for the ACCI.

“We are seeing the states diverge more and more frequently from agreed model WHS laws making it increasingly difficult and time-consuming for businesses to keep up with compliance requirements across multiple states,” she said.

“We urgently need a review of the intergovernmental agreement to recommit states and territories to the goal of harmonised legislation and the many benefits this brings to businesses and our economy.”

The research report also found there has been increased activity around psychosocial risks since 2022 with the publication of new model psychosocial regulations and several model and jurisdictional Codes of Practice.

There has also been ongoing confusion within the business community around the distinction between supporting general mental health and wellbeing and the newer concept of psychosocial risk.

With increasing regulatory complexity and the emergence of new priority risks such as silica, COVID, sexual harassment and psychosocial risks, the ACCI said it is concerned there has not been enough attention and effort put into ensuring businesses, particularly small businesses, have general risk management capabilities and awareness.

The majority of businesses generally agreed or strongly agreed to knowing when to report notifiable incidents to health and safety regulators, collecting accurate information on incidents and near misses and conducting safety investigations for incidents.

Responses drifted more towards neutral however for keeping up-to-date risk registers and reviewing risk assessments and controls regularly, and 66 per cent of business survey respondents reported interaction with an inspector in the past five years.

The research report also found large businesses in particular emphasised that reporting of sexual harassment and bullying was predominantly linked to HR functions over WHS, whereas smaller businesses indicated that managers or owners were the main point of contact for reporting.

“Most businesses had some measures in place to address sexual harassment and bullying at work however it was clear that there is ongoing confusion around the distinction between supporting general mental health and wellbeing, and this new concept of managing psychosocial risk,” Low said.

“Understanding of this term remains low and significant effort is needed in increasing business understanding of this emerging area.”