Labour law firms in many cities conduct free seminars on the legal issues of the day. These may involve union right-of-entry, OHS changes, privacy or right-to-know. The seminars are intended to generate custom by showing how informed and professional the legal firm is. Commercially for the firm, the seminars are a good idea. For safety consultants and small business operators, such seminars can be invaluable.
Recently in Melbourne, a prominent law firm, Freehills, conducted a breakfast seminar on “Tips on managing legal risk following a workplace incident” at which a short time was spent at the end discussing OHS harmonisation changes and the expected impacts of the legal changes on business. (Off-blog I received an email about this matter only last night as it relates to schools.) Freehills’ Senior Associate, Steve Bell, presented the following graph.
The graph clearly illustrates the priority areas that Freehills believes companies should look at in the new OHS regime.
Certainly there are no matters that are dismissed but, unlike other legal and lobbyist opinions, the greatest concern is not an increased duty on directors and company officers. Bell signifies “consultation and issue resolution” as one of the harmonisation changes “which have more immediate operational impact”.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine that consultation is not already a significant part of an OHS management system but the duty to consult and, more importantly, listen has not been a uniform legal requirement in Australia, although it has always been good practice. It may be that some business owners remain wary of their own workforce and consultation could be perceived as a significant threat, similar, in some minds perhaps, to the long forgotten class and ideological threats of “industrial democracy“. (If industrial democracy really does equate to a “participative, power-sharing model”, then safety professionals and health & safety representatives have been unknowingly practicing this “dark art” for decades.)
On the eve of the release of draft OHS regulations and codes of practice by Safe Work Australia, the priority perspective shown above may provide a useful comparison to the priorities of government.