The Queensland Government introduced the Work Health and
Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (Bill) into State
Parliament on 13 February 2014.
The Bill includes proposed amendments to the Work Health and
Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act), which will
restrict union right of entry processes and remove some powers of
health and safety representatives (HSRs).
During a Queensland Government review of the national model WHS
laws (Review), the construction industry raised concerns about the
misuse of entry powers by union officials and the inconsistencies
in entry notification requirements that exist between states.
In response, State Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie announced in
October 2013 that amendments would be made to the right of entry
provisions in the WHS Act to stop unions using safety issues as an
The changes would prevent unions using "loopholes in the
system to force their way onto worksites and lock workers
out", Attorney-General Bleijie said. Instead, the safety
regulator (Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
(WHSQ)) would become the first point of contact
for alleged safety breaches.
AMENDMENTS TO RIGHT OF ENTRY AND HSR POWERS
Once enacted, the amendments to the WHS Act proposed in the Bill
will mean that:
WHS entry permit holders must give at least 24 hours'
notice (but not more than 14 days' notice) before they can
enter a workplace to inquire into a suspected contravention;
A HSR who requests assistance from any person must give at
least 24 hours' (but not more than 14 days') notice before
that person can have access to the workplace;
HSRs will no longer have the power to direct workers to cease
maximum penalties for failure to comply with WHS entry permit
conditions will be doubled to $20,000; and
penalties of up to $20,000 will also apply for failure to
comply with the entry notification requirements.
During the Review, businesses also raised concerns about the
compliance costs and heavy administrative burden they were faced
with under the WHS Act. Accordingly, the Bill:
removes the requirement for a person conducting a business or
undertaking to provide a list of HSRs to WHSQ; and
allows for codes of practice adopted in Queensland to be varied
or revoked without requiring national consultation.
Finally, the Bill proposes to increase the maximum penalties
that can be prescribed for offences against the Electrical
Safety Regulation 2002 (Qld) from $4,000 to $33,000.
INTERACTION WITH FAIR WORK ACT 2009 (CTH)
The Bill's proposed changes to Queensland right of entry
notice requirements is also intended to align the WHS Act with
relevant provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)
(FW Act), which oblige a permit-holder seeking to
exercise entry rights for WHS purposes to provide a minimum of 24
However, this may not all be in employers' favour: a recent
decision of the Federal Court of Australia confirmed that unions
exercising entry rights under State and Territory WHS laws are not
only subject to the FW Act's requirements for right of entry
– but also its other provisions, including the ability to
seek orders to address employers' alleged hindering or
obstruction of entry rights. See Ramsay v Sunbuild Pty Ltd
 FCA 54 (12 February 2014).
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR EMPLOYERS
The intention of the proposed amendments to the WHS Act is to
ensure that unions are no longer able to cause disruptions on
Queensland worksites under the guise of investigating safety
Once the Bill is passed by State Parliament and commences
operation, employers will also benefit from a reduced compliance
burden in relation to some aspects of their WHS management
Employers based in Queensland or with operations in that State
should review existing policies and practices relating to union
right of entry and HSRs, in anticipation of the changes to the WHS
Act taking effect.
The Bill has been referred to the Parliamentary Finance and
Administration Committee, with submissions due on 28 February and a
report by 25 March 2014. It is likely that the amendments to the
WHS Act will commence soon after that date.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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