WA: Work Health and Safety Bill 2019 passes Upper House

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 22 October, 2020 - 13:30
Policy & legislation
National News
Western Australia

Western Australia’s Work Health and Safety Bill 2019 was recently passed by the State Legislative Council, and it is anticipated it will receive royal assent soon after consideration of amendments by the Legislative Assembly in November.

The new Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) will replace the current Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, and elements of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 and the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Safety Levies Act 2011 that relate to work health and safety.

As a result of significant public concern and the recommendations of two national reviews, the new legislation includes criminalising industrial manslaughter, with a maximum penalty of between five and 20 years of imprisonment for an individual and a maximum $10 million fine for a body corporate.

Other new aspects include increased penalties, prohibiting insurance coverage for WHS penalties and the introduction of enforceable undertakings as an alternative penalty.

The new laws will harmonise WA with other States and Territories, except Victoria, although amendments have been made to tailor the laws to reflect our unique State.

This means companies that operate across Australia will have similar obligations and requirements in each State and Territory.

This Bill follows the increases in workplace penalties the McGowan Government introduced in October 2018:

  • Level 4 (the highest) offences attract a maximum $2.7 million penalty for first offenders and $3.5 million for subsequent offenders (up from $500,000 and $625,000 respectively); and
  • Level 1 (least severe) penalties increased from $50,000 to $450,000 for first offenders and from $62,500 to $570,000 for subsequent offences.

When assented, the WHS Act will not be operational until regulations are complete, and work to develop the regulations is presently underway and will continue in 2021.

This provides workplace participants with time to become familiar with the provisions of the WHS Act.

Transitional arrangements will also be in place to provide sufficient time for duty holders to adapt their safe systems of work to the new requirements.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety is developing resources to assist workplace participants in adapting to the new laws.

These will be available closer to the date the new laws become operational and will include information about the new regulations.

“This new legislation brings together all industries, general, mining and petroleum, into one Work Health and Safety Act, but with separate regulations, this will assist WA businesses with their safety obligations,” said WA Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnston.

“It reflects the social obligations and responsibilities the community now expects from companies and their senior management, including that mental health and wellbeing needs to be considered alongside physical safety.

“I’m very pleased that we have significantly increased the maximum penalties available to the courts for companies and directors responsible for workplace tragedies; this will act as a deterrent and ensure all workplaces focus on improving safety culture.”