The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released its submission (not yet online) to the Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) review of the Regulatory Impact Statement on the recommendations from the Boland review of the Model Work Health and Safety laws. It is comprehensive but contains little that is new. An interesting interpretation of the submission comes from considering how the MCA’s recommendations prevent harm, for prevention is the challenge.
Recently the State Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General WA, Mike Buchan, wrote in Construction Weekly about the need for Industrial Manslaughter laws in Western Australia. There are several points made that deserve some assessment and clarification.
He starts by stating that current occupational health and safety (OHS) laws are inadequate. This may be the case, but as Nicole Rosie from WorkSafe NZ has, supposedly, said “you can’t regulate your way to safety”. What may be inadequate is people’s compliance with OHS laws, and there may be many reasons for this non-compliance – ignorance, illiteracy, lack of enforcement by government, complexity of laws and guidance, and/or a total disregard. According to Buchan, and the wider trade union movement, Industrial Manslaughter (IM) laws are supposed to fix this inadequacy.
Buchan writes that
“The penalties that are handed down, even when a builder is found guilty of negligence, have been a disgrace in the face of the extraordinary loss of life and the suffering of families left behind.”
Lawyers speaking at occupational health and safety conferences can be a bit hit-and-miss. Some are interested in minute complexities of law. Others are not comfortable talking about legal technicalities with non-lawyers. The presentation also depends on what the conference delegates want, and this can differ from day to day. But sometimes, a conference hears from a lawyer who not only practices law but reads the newspapers and seems the understand the social context of their work.
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Before Christmas, the Victorian Government will be presenting a Bill for Industrial Manslaughter laws to the Parliament. The core elements of accountability and penalty are expected to be little different to the Bill that failed to pass Parliament earlier this Century by a bee’s whatsit. The debate is likely to be on the same benefits and costs, so one can reread Victoria’s Hansard from 2002 or look at the debate in Queensland Parliament last week where that Government’s “Safety Reset” has generated arguments about which party is more committed to occupational health and safety (OHS).
In August 2019, lawyer and author Michael Tooma (pictured right) was the keynote speaker at the 2019 National Work Health and Safety Colloquium ostensibly talking about his May 2019 presentation to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). It was an important presentation of the paper he wrote is important. However, it was in the questions afterwards, on Industrial Manslaughter laws and accountability, where Tooma was most passionate and personal.