Following the Queensland Government’s recent review of work health and safety (WHS) laws, on 13 February 2014 the Attorney General and Minister for Justice Jarrod Bleijie introduced the Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Bill 2014 (Qld) (Bill).  This is stated to be the first of the proposed WHS legislative reforms arising from the review.

If passed in its current form, the Bill will implement significant changes to rights of entry based on WHS concerns, the powers of health and safety representatives (HSRs), as well as significantly increasing the penalties available for certain electrical WHS breaches.

The reforms of right of entry powers would add a new requirement that WHS entry permit holders would need to provide at least 24 hours, but not more than 14 days, notice before entering workplaces to investigate suspected WHS contraventions, together with penalties for breaching this requirement. 

This will mean that this right of entry will be consistent with other right of entry powers under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). 

This change is aimed at limiting what has been described by Minister Bleijie as being the abuse of right of entry powers by unions based on ‘trumped up or suspected safety contraventions’, particularly in the building and construction industry. 

Once in force, this change will mean that employers can take a consistent approach to the timing of notice requirements for the exercise of right of entry powers.

The proposed changes affecting HSRs include:

  • a notification requirement for the entry of any assistant in circumstances where a HSR requests the assistance of another person, and
  • the removal of the power for a HSR to direct unsafe work to stop.

The first of these changes closes a potential loophole regarding right of entry.  The second change is a significant reduction in power for HSRs.  However, workers retain a general right to stop or refuse work where they have a reasonable concern that they would be exposed to a serious risk to their own health and safety, arising from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.   Any such stoppage must be notified and the worker must be available to perform suitable alternative work until they can resume their normal duties. 

The final proposed reform is to increase the maximum penalties available under theElectrical Safety Regulation 2013 (Qld) from 40 penalty units to 300 penalty units – representing an increase under the current definition of a ‘penalty unit’ from $440 to $33,000.  This increase is stated to be justified as a deterrent and to bring this Regulation into line with penalty increases already implemented following the harmonisation of Queensland WHS laws. 

We will keep you informed of further developments, but in the meantime please contact our team of WHS experts if you wish to discuss any of the reforms.