Everyone is eagerly anticipating the issues paper of Australia’s review into model OHS law but talking with many people at the SIA08 conference this week, it seems that people are anticipating more from the review than the review was established. The review will be looking at OHS law and law establishes the parameters for managing workplace safety. However, OHS law is what underpins safety management and it is easy to focus on the law to the detriment of managing safety in workplaces.
Employers don’t need to be familiar with the intricacies of OHS law. They need to understand their legal obligations. Legal advice is usually sought if something goes wrong. So how will the current OHS law review change how we manage safety? I asked Tracey Browne of the Australian Industry Group for her opinion. Tracey said the review “has the potential to be revolutionary but everyone needs to realise that changing the law is not going to change anything on its own.”
To progress OHS law many of the issues that have come to dominate discussion over the last 30 years will need to be put aside. Of all the participants in the review process, Tracy believes that the OHS regulators may have the hardest time in achieving this position.
Cathy Butcher of the Victorian Trades Hall agrees that there are considerable agreements on OHS law but she identified some substantial sticking points. In a panel discussion at the Safety In Action Conference she listed the following big differences:
- The removal of “reasonably practicable”
- The union right to prosecute
- The reintroduction of “risk assessment” into the Victorian regulations and OHS Act
- Compliance Codes to “go the way of the dodo”
Whether this is an ambit claim will be seen soon through the OHS Law Review process.