Health and safety shake up a serious commitment to protect workers

The most significant overhaul of Western Australia’s health and safety laws in three decades has landed, with businesses one month down the track of a year-long transition period.

The State Government’s Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act) replaces previous legislation circa 1984, effectively aligning all workplaces under a single act to improve protections for WA workers.

It also brings the state into line with the national model used in all states and territories, bar Victoria.

If business owners were not already placing the health and safety of their staff at the top of the priority list, the introduction of significant penalties and increased responsibilities will likely place newfound emphasis on the importance of addressing workplace health and safety.

So, what are the key changes employers must know?

What comes into effect, when?

The Western Australian work health and safety (WHS) laws came into effect on 31 March 2022.

This included the commencement of all duties outlined in the regulations, which are very similar to previous legislation.

However, specific duties outlined in the regulations that are new or significantly modified are subject to transitional provisions over a 12-month period – unless specified.

All authorisations such as licenses and registrations issued under previous laws will continue to be recognised under the new regime until their expiry.

The main exception to the 12-month period relates to classifications of hazardous chemicals under the Globally Harmonised System, where a five-year transition period applies.

To support businesses through the change, the WA Government is funding an extra 21 Worksafe inspectors and six support staff to improve WHS outcomes.

Introduction of “PCBU” definition

The Act introduces a new definition; the ‘person conducting business of undertaking’ or PCBU.

This person could be a sole trader, each partner within a partnership, a company, an unincorporated association or a government department of public authority.

If you are a business owner, you could fit this definition as an individual, while larger organisations will have “officers of the PCBU”.

This is significant as all PCBUs and officers have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers, as well as others who may be affected by carrying out work – including subcontractors and gig economy workers.

The PCBU is required to take action to eliminate health and safety risks where possible or minimise those risks as far as reasonably practicable when they cannot be eliminated entirely.

Increased penalties

The WHS Act introduces the offence of “industrial manslaughter”, which attracts significant penalties where a duty causes the death of an individual, in circumstances where the PCBU knew the conduct could cause death or serious harm.

This new offence carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $5 million fine for an individual and a maximum $10 million fine for a body corporate.

This confirms senior decision makers must exercise due diligence to ensure compliance, with responsibility firmly sitting at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to workplace safety.

New reporting requirements also come into effect for ‘notifiable incidents’, including serious illness, injury or death and dangerous incidents.

The ‘enforceable undertaking’

This new concept allows businesses to voluntarily provide a written commitment to take certain corrective actions over an agreed time, in circumstances where it is operating in a way that commits, or may commit, an offence under WHS laws.

This is an alternative to legal proceedings but is not an option for Category 1 offences or industrial manslaughter.

This written commitment would then be accepted or rejected by the Regulator. If accepted, the business must complete substantial activities to deliver tangible benefits to the workplace, industry or broader community.

Your health and safety partners

At GeoMoby, ensuring the health and safety of workers is at the core of what we do.

It is imperative every team member returns safely to their families at the end of their shift, but what you can’t measure, you can’t manage.

This is particularly important in challenging environments such as mining, where staff and fleet are located underground and visibility is limited.

Compound these challenges with a work environment increasingly impacted by health issues and it is clear businesses must work smarter to ensure the safety of their teams.

With our technology, staff health metrics can be monitored in real time from the moment they arrive on site, detecting emergency situations the moment they arise, prompting immediate action.

One of the biggest challenges underground mining operations deal with is visibility of what is happening underground from the surface.

Location-based safety analytics are key to implementing a safe system while ensuring little impact on production.

GeoMoby is delivering on a range of use cases that will ensure that everyone can come back home safely at the end of a shift whether they work on the surface, underground or both.

Speak to the GeoMoby team today for guidance on how our location technologies can make a difference for your business and the safety of your workforce.