Australia: A New OHS Framework For ACT - Work Safety Bill 2008

Last Updated: 16 September 2008
Article by Joe Catanzariti and Christa Lenard


As you may be aware, on 6 June 2008 the ACT Government released an exposure draft of the Work Safety Bill 2008 (Bill). The Bill, based on a review by the ACT OHS Council of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1989 (OHS Act), finalised in September 2005, provides a new framework for promoting and ensuring workplace safety in the ACT.

The Bill, which was passed by Parliament on 28 August 2008 (and is currently awaiting notification) will replace the OHS Act.

About the Bill

It is our intention to outline the most significant elements of the Bill, and also briefly discuss how the Bill relates to policy and legislative developments in OH&S, both in the ACT and nationally.

Duty to manage risk

The Bill imposes work safety duties on relevant parties, including workers and employers to manage risk and promote work safety. "Work safety", which is the central term underlying the operation of the Bill means simply the health, safety and wellbeing of people in relation to work. The term "risk" takes on its ordinary meaning of "exposure to the chance of injury or loss". The Bill provides that a person manages risk in relation to a duty by taking all reasonably practicable steps to eliminate risk, or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimise risk(ie. through risk management mechanisms and consultation).

This broad approach is intended to increase the applicability of the duties to different types of work and employment arrangements. For example, under current OHS Act, contractors and other non-employee workers are generally captured as third parties at or near a workplace. In contrast, the Bill applies even coverage to all types of workers. Moreover, duties themselves are expanded. For example, a manufacturer in the ACT would have to comply with the duties to manage risk as an employer as well as with duties to manage risk as a manufacturer of plant, product or structure. A person may be subject to more than one duty, and, if the duty applies to more than one person, each person must comply with the duty (although there is scope to avoid duplication).

Duty to consult

The Bill imposes a duty on employers to consult with their workers to allow them to contribute to matters affecting their work safety. This is to allow workers to contribute to matters directly affecting their work safety. This means that employers will now be required to establish a worker consultation unit that best and most conveniently allows the workers' work safety interests to be represented and safeguarded.

It is an offence to not consult with workers on work safety issues.

If in doubt, we can provide guidance on how best to create a worker consultation unit and the obligations on each employer to operate and maintain a consultative unit.

Enforcement and compliance

The OHS Act was amended in 2004 to include a revised enforcement regime and new compliance provisions. The Bill does not depart dramatically from the 2004 amendments, however it does include proposed modifications necessary to ensure application to contemporary work practices and arrangements.

The Bill provides for the following compliance measures:

  • compliance agreements - between an inspector and a responsible person identified to remedy a potential contravention of the legislation;
  • improvement notices;
  • prohibition notices;
  • enforceable undertakings - a measure for ensuring compliance with the legislation without resorting to prosecution for criminal offences; and
  • injunctions.


The Bill contains significant penalties. For example, where a failure to comply with a duty causes serious harm, the Bill provides for a maximum penalty of 2000 penalty units, imprisonment for seven years, or both.

A major factor in the implementation of the Bill is the current effort by the Federal Government to introduce a national uniform or consistent OH&S scheme.On 23 May 2008, the Workplace Relations Ministers' Council agreed in principle to the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in OH&S.

The Panel appointed to review OH&S laws released an issues paper in May 2008, and will draft two reports for the Council in October 2008 and January 2009 dealing with matters it has identified as priorities.

This Bill is intended to inform and complement the national vision and is proposed as an interim measure to ensure that the ACT is better placed to implement the model national legislation planned for implementation in 2012.

A copy of the Bill can be obtained here.

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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