What were the top OHS law issues for 2020?

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Wednesday, 6 January, 2021 - 12:00
Industry news
National News

Organisations were challenged in 2020 by many OHS law-related issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an international law firm.

These included managing overseas, interstate and local travel, notification obligations in each jurisdiction, best practice for dealing with the return to work, vulnerable workers and the content of COVID-Safe plans, said Nicki Milionis, special counsel and partner at Norton Rose Fulbright Australia.

“As a result of both the pandemic and media attention on sexual misconduct and harassment, organisational interest and focus on the management of risks to workers’ mental health was renewed and will likely continue well into 2021,” she added. 

Another top issue for 2020 was the introduction of industrial manslaughter offences in Victoria, Northern Territory and Western Australia (as part of its new Work Health and Safety Act 2019 which received royal assent in November 2020 and is awaiting proclamation at the time of writing).

“As a result, an issue for organisations is to identify whether they have a culture of compliance, what such a culture consists of and how it can be supported in order to mature so that the organisation has arrangements in place that positively promote a safe working environment,” said Milionis.

With ongoing changes around the impact of COVID-19 and health department guidance/restrictions, she said the pandemic will likely remain an issue that OHS professionals will be dealing with well into 2021.

“Organisational plans should be reviewed (and revised if necessary) to ensure they remain effective,” said Milionis.

Those plans can include a pandemic plan (i.e. how to flex up/down as required), COVID-Safe plan (differently named in each jurisdiction) and a transition plan for return to work (including addressing long absences, vulnerable workers and changing working environments).

In addition, Milionis said a priority for OHS professionals in the new year should be to focus on organisational culture.

She said this might involve: an audit or gap analysis of the organisation’s current compliance with legislative obligations; identifying any unwritten rules, policies and practices which are non-compliant and eliminating those; and/or identifying any potential hazards not previously addressed particularly those which may result in sexual harassment and risks to mental health and taking steps to control those risks.