Australia’s work health and safety (WHS) laws confirmed the modern approach to workplace safety legislation and compliance where workers and businesses are responsible for their own safety and the safety of others who may be affected by the work. The obligations to others existed before the latest WHS law reforms but it was not widely enforced. The
Australian law firm
“…require construction companies to implement comprehensive drug and alcohol screening measures to ensure the safety of workers to be eligible to tender for Victorian Government construction contracts.”
This is to be part of the occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations of companies under the Implementation Guidelines to the Victorian Code of Practice for the Building and Construction Industry. Understandably the construction union, particularly, is angry and feels as if it is being singled out. Both organisations have chosen their words very carefully. Premier Napthine is quoted as saying:
“Reports of illicit drug use and distribution on Victorian construction sites are widespread.”
“There is no epidemic of drug taking on construction sites…. Our Health and Safety representatives who look out for workers’ health and safety are not reporting a problem.”
It is unlikely there is an epidemic of drug use but the Premier is talking of drugs AND alcohol.
One of the most discussed posts on this blog concerned an insurance company that paid the fines awarded against a company director. The company director had been found guilty of OHS breaches that led to the death of a worker. Yesterday, South Australia’s Deputy Premier and Minister for Industrial Relations. John Rau, said that he will be taking action to close the loophole that allows for this situation. But this is unlikely to succeed and may be a distraction from the more significant issue of new penalties for deterrence.
In a media release, not yet available online, Rau states that
“Insurance should not be the preference over safe equipment and safe workplace standards….
Whilst most employers do the right thing, this dodge effectively means that the incentive for a company to provide a safe environment for its workers is diminished or eliminated.”
Rau’s current strategy for closing this loophole, which is not really a legal loophole at all, is weak. Rau, a Labor Party politician, says that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Federal Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However, Australia is ten days away from an election that the current (Labor) government is tipped to lose.
The lower house (thanks, Rex) of the Australian Parliament has passed amendments to its industrial relations laws, the Fair Work Act, to allow for matters concerning workplace bullying to be heard in its Commission, once the laws pass the Senate.. But recent media and parliamentary discussion on this action seems to forgotten the welfare of the bullied workers.
Professor Andrew Stewart of the University of Adelaide is reported to have said that there is a risk that the Fair Work Commission will be “swamped” with bullying complaints and that a system of filtering should be applied. Such a mechanism is supported by Professor Ron McCallum who said in The Australian on 14 June 2013:
“I would agree with the Coalition that there should be some filtering mechanism because we don’t know how many complaints there are going to be,” he said. “There’s been wildly varying suggestions.