Harmonised OHS scheme causes conflict

While the Federal Government aspires to standardise OHS rules Australia-wide, the Independent Contractors of Australia (ICA) has called for serious revisions to the scheme.

The industry body claims that if implemented, the harmonised laws will create confusion in workplaces about who is responsible for safety.

The ICA?s report also found that in Victoria, a number of rights held by employers during criminal prosecutions over workplace safety breaches ? such as the right to silence and protection against self-incrimination ? would be stripped.

Under the proposed laws, workplace inspectors would have the power to seize entire businesses without the oversight of a court.

The ICA?s executive director Ken Phillips told The Australian that the Federal Government?s proposed laws would broaden the definition of who was responsible for workplace safety, opening the possibility of prosecutions against those who were able to ?influence or direct? a business.

“You have got to remember, this is a bill that would not just affect the managers, it would affect every single worker on-site,” he said. “If a consultant wrote a report suggesting something should be done or should not be done, well clearly that person has had an influence. There is no limitation on this.”

By comparison, the analysis found that the current Victorian Act is clear and specific.

“People know that if they have control of things at work, then they have a responsibility to safety,” it states.

While the Victorian Government has signed an in-principle agreement with the new model, it indicated it would only sign up were there no detriment.  The ICA will begin lobbying the State Government with the view that industry will be worse off.

But while the ICA believes the harmonised laws would be of detriment, powerful player the Australian Industry Group has come out in support of the changes.

Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout said that by standardising OHS laws, the industry stood to benefit from an annual net benefit of a quarter of a billion dollars in improved safety outcomes with reduced red tape. According to Ridout, companies only stood to face an estimated cost of under $3.30 per worker per year.

“Such regulatory barriers to doing business within our own national borders, in a market the size of Australia, are indefensible at the best of times,? said Ridout in a statement. ?This is especially the case at a time when many companies are under stress and looking to supply interstate where the resources boom is playing out most strongly and when reducing cost and lifting productivity is an imperative.?

Workplace relations minister Chris Evans? views were in step with those of the Ai Group. Following the release of a Regulatory Impact Statement on the reforms,
Evans claimed that a national system would result in productivity gains of $2 billion.

?In a modern economy where businesses operate and trade across state boundaries, it is inefficient to have nine different OHS statutes and more than 400 pieces of regulation covering the same responsibilities,? said Evans. ?By improving workers? safety at the same time as delivering on fundamental reform that will boost economic productivity, harmonised OHS laws represent a win-win for both employers and employees.?

The standardised package is due to be in place by 1 January, 2012.

Sources: The Australian; DEEWR; Ai Group; ICA

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