Businesses set to be stung by OHS “grace period”

Businesses in Victoria and WA that do not implement new national OHS laws on January 1 may still be liable despite a 12-month grace period, according to OHS legal expert Graham Dent.


Earlier this month, it was revealed businesses will have up to 12 months to implement new national health and safety laws if they are forced to make “significant changes” to comply.


The plan to replace nine sets of OHS laws with uniform national laws was agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments in 2008.


However, the state governments in Victoria and WA haven’t passed the model law needed to make the changes, which are due to start on January 1, 2012.


This prompted the Federal Government to announce a 12-month grace period, allowing companies an additional 12 months to implement the laws.


But Graham Dent, of Dent Consulting & Legal, says businesses in Victoria, WA and other jurisdictions that do not make it to the “starting line” on January 1 may still be liable under the new Work Health and Safety Act.


Dent says while businesses in “non-starter” states believe they have a further 12 months to get their systems in order, they may in fact be covered by those laws – in relation to some of their work – from January 1.


“Even though a business is not a Commonwealth agency or licensee, it may be subject to certain obligations under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act,” Dent says.

“If a business [has a] contract with a party under the Commonwealth WHS Act, to supply goods or services to it, then to that extent they may be subject to the new law.”


“These laws carry significant increases in sanctions… Businesses need to assess whether they apply to them.”


Joydeep Hor, managing director of workplace law firm People + Culture Strategies, says the critical issue for employers – with regard to the new laws – is policy compliance and education.


“As far as the policy compliance side of things is concerned, employers need to take a holistic view on where their OHS risk profile lies,” he says.


“An area that’s often overlooked is the issue of working from home… That would be a watch-out.”


“The second part is education – ensuring those in management roles understand the very severe personal consequences of being found to be in breach of the new OHS laws.”


According to Hor, employers owe it to their staff to educate them about the new laws, although they shouldn’t need to make any major changes to comply.


“It shouldn’t change too much of what an employer is doing. From that point of view, it shouldn’t be seen with any undue alarm,” he says.


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