Lives at risk without harmonised OHS

ACTU President Ged Kearney appeared outside the WA Parliament last week, stating that the WA Government?s decision to miss the deadline of 1 January, 2012 was putting workers? lives at risk. Kearney presented the WA Parliament with a petition containing over 2000 signatures, demanding the state sign up to the Council of Australian Governments agreement.

“Thousands of workers have signed this petition to say that they care about their safety at work, they care about their colleagues, they care about their families safety,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Kearney drew attention to the fact that there had been two deaths in the workplace in the state in the last week alone, including, according to the SMH, a 48-year old worker who was set alight with an oxy torch and another resulting in the death of a young backpacker. According to the SMH, over the course of every year, three out of every 16 deaths occur at mine sites.

UnionsWA is concerned that in states that have signed up to the harmonised OHS laws, businesses would face a maximum penalty of $3 million for a death in the workplace, whereas in WA the fine would be less than half that amount.

“That’s amazing when you consider that we’ve got the world’s two biggest mining companies operating in our state and we know that the deaths that occur in the mining industry are all too frequent,” UnionsWA secretary Simone McGurk told the paper.

The WA Government, however, was firm on its decision to blow the deadline of 1 January, with a spokesperson claiming it wasn?t clear that workers would be better off.

“We are not signing up by 1 January because the Federal Government has not kept to its own timelines in terms of supplying us with the relevant information,” the spokesman for WA Commerce Minister Simon O?Brien said. “Under the harmonisation process we will no longer have regulation on topics such as abrasive blasting or spray painting and we would be relying on non-mandatory codes of practice.?

Victoria has also declined to sign up to the harmonised laws.

Federal Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans recently announced that businesses will have a year from the 1 January start date to adhere to the new system.

“The transitional arrangements will apply to the model occupational health and safety regulations and provide delayed commencement of up to 12 months or more where the new laws result in a new or significantly different set of duties,? said Evans, according to the SafetoWork website. “With two months until the COAG deadline it appears that Victoria and WA will be left with outmoded safety regulations which don’t meet the needs of a dynamic twenty-first century economy and labour market.?

AiGroup chief executive Heather Ridout came out in support of the transitional period.

“These arrangements recognise the importance of harmonisation but also the impact on business,? she said. “We believe these arrangements will allow companies to implement these important laws in a logical and practical way.?

SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald; SafeToWork; Ai Group;

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