Australia: WH&S regulators step up activity - time for a WH&S health check?

Key Points:

It's time to perform the WH&S health check of your organisation

There's been an increase in WH&S regulatory activity over the last few months, especially in Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. From more frequent inspections to regulatory reform, we round up what's happening and what you need to do in response.

WH&S regulators step up inspection of workplaces

Wide-ranging inspection of workplaces continue to be conducted by the Victorian and Australian Capital Territory regulators, particularly the housing construction industry which has been the focus of state-wide workplace safety campaigns.

In August 2012, Victorian workplace and workers' compensation inspectors conducted compliance activities across Shepparton as part of a "Safe Towns" campaign.

From February 2013, as part of its "Operation SafeSite", Worksafe Victoria has continued its blitz on the construction industry by targeting sites around Bendigo, Geelong, Mildura, Ballarat and Warrnambool. Inspectors will reportedly focus efforts on fundamental safety practices and sites undertaking high risk construction activity.

In December 2012, WorkSafe ACT inspectors targeted the suburb of Wright, issuing 50 Notices. At the end of January, in the suburb of Harrison, Inspectors attended 46 residential sites, issued 20 Infringement Notices (for non-compliance with testing and tagging of electrical equipment, white induction cards and signage), two Prohibition Notices and 98 Improvement Notices.

Victoria reducing red tape

In January, the Victorian Department of Treasury and Finance released the "Guideline for preparing reducing red tape – Statements of Expectations for regulators" requiring various state regulators (including Victoria WorkSafe, VicRoads and Environment Protection Authority) to outline how red tape can be reduced and how to improve "regulatory outcomes by developing more risk-based, proportionate and targeted approaches to regulating". The Guideline considered:

  • the provision of meaningful guidance to stakeholders to reduce the need for inspectors;
  • how the removal of reporting and notification might operate in the case of low-risk activities and where there would be a limited impact on regulatory matters; and
  • how the frequency of inspections might be decreased in the case of stakeholders with good compliance antecedents and low-risk activities.

Queensland assessing WH&S

Meanwhile the Queensland Government has released a small business survey to obtain feedback on the harmonised Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and its effect on operations.

Amongst other things, feedback is sought on the time and costs involved in performing aspects of a safety management system and experiences with regulators.

Also, in March the Government raised concerns regarding the number of working days lost to industrial disputes in Queensland. It is seeking feedback by 21 March on the proposed guidelines for the building and construction code of practice with a view to preventing delays and resulting costs associated with industrial actions.

What to do now – WH&S health check

Given the current prevalence of regulatory activity, it may be time to perform the WH&S health check of your organisation.

Particularly for those states that have enacted national harmonised WH&S legislation, such as the ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania, some key questions to ask include:

  • Is there a process in place to respond to regulators at your workplace such as a regulator's entry to the "workplace" and the proper notification of entry, the issuance of notices, the seizure of things and requests or requirements to answer questions or provide documents?
  • Does the incident response and reporting procedures operate effectively to ensure compliance with prescribed timeframe and notification requirements?
  • Has the safety management system been reviewed and has relevant risk assessments been completed (including that for electrical safety)?
  • Is the current training and supervision of staff adequate concerning the use of scaffolding and the risks associated with falls, manual tasks, noise or demolition activities?
  • Does a new Code of Practice, which may be considered by a court as evidence of what the organisation ought to have known, apply to the organisation's operations?
  • Has the requirement to test and tag electrical equipment, hold relevant induction cards and display appropriate signage at construction sites been met?
  • Has adequate consultation, co-operation and co-ordination of construction activities between duty holders occurred? Have workers been consulted according to the process outlined in legislation?

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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