Turning back the clock: Changes to Queensland’s Work Health and Safety Act

The Queensland Government has indicated in its budget that the proposed changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act) will be given the green light. The Work Health and Safety and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 (Qld), however, might be seen as a step back in time. It largely restores elements of the WHS Act which were removed by the previous government. It also seeks to make significant changes to the notifiable incident obligations.

Injury or illness causing absence for more than four days

One significant change that will put Queensland out of line with the harmonised laws in other States and Territories is the amended definition of ‘serious injury or illness’, which includes a requirement to notify the regulator of an injury or illness causing a person to be absent from the person’s voluntary or paid employment for more than 4 days.

This amendment will likely result in a substantial increase in notifiable incidents. Many incidents that were previously not required to be reported will now meet the threshold. For instance, psychological injuries, which may not have met the previous notification thresholds (ie did not result in inpatient treatment), may now need to be reported to the regulator.

Health and Safety Representative powers

The Bill reinstates the power for a trained Health and Safety Representative to direct a worker in their group to cease work if they have a reasonable concern that carrying out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to their health and safety. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill notes that restoring the provision will align the WHS Act with the cessation of work provisions contained in the model WHS laws.

Right of entry expanded

Before the changes in 2014, the WHS Act allowed:

  • WHS entry permit holders to gain immediate access to a workplace to inquire into a suspected contravention of the WHS Act and provide notice as soon as is reasonably practicable afterwards; and
  • a Health and Safety Representative to request the assistance of any person without providing notice.

In 2014, the Queensland Government introduced a requirement for 24 hours’ notice under both these provisions. The Bill removes the notice requirement for both these provisions, restoring the original WHS Act.

The Finance and Administration Committee, which was tasked with making recommendations on the Bill, was unable to reach consensus on whether these requirements should be removed. It was argued that allowing the Health and Safety Representative to request the assistance of “any person” would be open to abuse. Equally, however, the report noted that there had not been any reported abuse of the assistance provisions before the 24 hours’ notice requirement being introduced.

Allowing WHS entry permit holders immediate access was also said in submissions to be overly disruptive to the workplace, particularly in the building and construction industry. Government members of the Committee, on the other hand, thought that the provisions, which seek to prevent serious incidents, were justified by the fact that ‘even one serious injury, or one death, is one serious injury or death too many.’

Other changes

The Bill also seeks to reduce the maximum penalty for contravening WHS entry permit conditions from $20,000 to $10,000. This restores the WHS Act to its position before the 2014 amendments.

If you operate in Queensland, it is worthwhile making sure your business is familiar with the proposed changes. You may also want to review your policies and procedures on reporting injuries and illnesses to ensure they reflect the new requirements once they come into force.

Photo credit: Pixabay.com

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