Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014

The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014 (the Bill) was introduced into Parliament on 13 February 2014.

The Bill will bring about significant changes to:

  • rights of entry on workplace health and safety (WHS) concerns;
  • health and safety representatives (HSRs) power to stop work; and
  • increased penalties for certain electrical WHS breaches.

Rights of Entry

Under the current Workplace Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (the Act), WHS entry permit holders have wide powers to enter workplaces for the purpose of inquiring into a suspected contravention of the Act and carry out inspections and inquiries. A permit holder is required to give notice to the relevant person as soon as is reasonably practicable after entering a workplace.

The Bill requires that a permit holder give notice during usual work hours, at least 24 hours, but not more than 14 days, before entering a workplace for the purpose of inquiring into a suspected contravention of the WHS Act.

The Bill proposes to limit the amount of “surprise visits” to worksites from unions who exercise right of entry for actual or suspected contraventions.

The Bill doubles the current penalty for any breach of entry permit conditions and introduces a new offence for failure to give the required notice.

HSRs’ Powers to Stop Work

Under the Act, HSRs have wide powers to direct work to stop where the HSR has a ‘reasonable concern’ that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a ‘serious risk’ to health and safety, emanating from an ‘immediate or imminent exposure’ to a hazard. Industries have complained that there is potential for misuse of these powers, due to issues with subjectivity of ‘serious risk’ and ‘imminent exposure’, and the limited evidence put forward to support a ‘reasonable concern’.

The Bill would remove these powers from HSRs, limiting their enforcement avenues to the issuing of provisional improvement notices (PINs), which is proposed to allow HSRs to control valid safety concerns, but curtails their immediate control powers; relevantly PINs give the recipient a timeframe of eight (8) days to comply.

The Bill does not affect workers’ individual rights to cease work if they have a reasonable concern that they will be exposed to a serious risk to their health or safety emanating from an imminent exposure to a hazard.

Increased Penalties

The Bill proposes to increase the maximum penalty under the Electrical Safety Regulation 2002 (Qld) from $4,000 to $33,000.

What Does This Mean?

At this stage the Bill has been introduced into Parliament and referred to the Parliamentary and Finance Administration Committee. The Committee is expected to provide a report by 25 March 2014.

In light of the above changes, employers should take the opportunity to review current WHS practices.

Given that unions will no longer be able to cause significant disruptions when investigating suspected or actual safety breaches, employers should ensure that they have adequate practices to deal with and investigate incidents when they first arise.