Legal

Business backs suppressed OH&S report

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A long suppressed review into NSW occupational health and safety laws has been released, revealing recommendations to ease the OH&S duties faced by businesses in that state.

A long suppressed review into NSW occupational health and safety laws has been released, revealing recommendations to ease the OH&S duties faced by businesses in that state.

 

The review by retired Supreme Court judge Paul Stein was finished early in 2007 but has only now come to light as part of a NSW submission to a federal inquiry into OH&S harmonisation.

 

The NSW Business Chamber, which has been calling for the release of the suppressed report for 16 months, today welcomed the release of the review.

 

Spokesman Paul Ritchie says the review highlights that changes need to be made to an OH&S system that is widely regarded as the least business-friendly in the nation.

 

“We have the most onerous system in Australia, the highest number of prosecutions, inspectors and fines, and yet we have injury rates worse than the national average. That says we have a system that isn’t working properly and producing the safety outcomes we need,” he says.

 

A key recommendation made by the Stein review is to replace the current absolute duty of care on businesses with a duty to do whatever is “reasonably practicable” to ensure workplace safety.

 

Such a change would decrease the incidence of absurd prosecutions – for example, the NSW Police Force being prosecuted where police are injured in the course of duty – and improve safety outcomes, Ritchie says.

 

“This is a more sensible approach that recognises you need a collaborative, not adversarial, safety culture in workplaces – that’s what we and others argued and Stein has agreed,” he says.

 

The review also recommends giving businesses the right to appeal prosecutions to the Criminal Court of Appeal and the introduction of offences where unions abuse rights of entry conferred under OH&S laws.

 

It is not all one way traffic, however, with Stein also recommending that unions should retain their right to bring prosecutions and that employers should retain the burden of proving compliance with OH&S laws.

 

But on balance, the NSW Business Chamber argues, the Stein recommendations would improve the NSW system and should be carefully considered by the national review.

 

“NSW is out of step with the rest of Australia on OH&S, and we are hoping the national review will help to bring it into line,” Ritchie says.

 

 

 

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