Comcare is often seen as a minor player in OHS regulation in Australia because, although it has national coverage, it limits its OHS and workers’ compensation activities to specific industrial and public service sectors. Although it is limited, it has a monopoly in those sectors and is powerful. Its role in Australia’s harmonisation program seems to be just another OHS regulator but it has a unique role and structure.
Recently, Comcare’s CEO, Paul O’Connor, and Deputy CEO, Steve Kibble, addressed the Australian Senate’s Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee in the annual Estimates hearings. Hansard reports Kibble’s comments (around page 32) on the enforcement activity of Comcare:
“Comcare has initiated 16 civil court proceedings in relation to alleged breaches of the OHS Act since 2004…..
Recent prosecutions include a matter in relation to a federal agent of the Australian Federal Police for a breach of his individual duties of care. That matter is still before the court. We have also taken proceedings against the department of immigration and Subsee Explorer Pty Ltd. They were both in relation to the fatalities with the loss of the Malu Sara in the Torres Strait in 2005. Those two matters are still before the court. We prosecuted Linfox Australia following a severe personal injury suffered by a Linfox employee in Western Australia in 2007, and last Thursday the Federal Court determined that Linfox had breached the OHS Act, and imposed a penalty of $150,000 on Linfox” [links added]
Kibble mentions “enforceable undertakings”:
“The enforcement undertakings we have accepted have all been in the form of a commitment by the employer concerned to go above minimum compliance with the act, to improve their training, their systems of safety, to commit to programs of communication, supervisor training, et cetera. ….. We do see the enforceable undertakings as a very useful tool to achieve improved safety outcomes for the benefit of federal workers.”
“…a commitment by the employer concerned to go above minimum compliance with the act…”.
“If we look at last financial year, there were about 250 safety incidents reported to Comcare—notifiable incidents under federal law. In this year alone we have seen that drop down to about 154 to date.”