Should Victoria have jumped ship on WHS harmonisation?

by |

Risk managers in Victoria will no longer have to prepare for the implications of national WHS harmonisation now that state has decided to opt out of the initiative, but was this the right move?

“The Government will not sign up to the current proposal for harmonised legislation for occupational health and safety,” Victorian Treasurer Kim Wells said in his budget speech.

“It offers little benefit for Victoria to offset the $3.4bn of estimated costs, the majority of which falls on small business. Victoria will continue to work towards best practice legislation.”

His comments, however, have stirred some debate in risk management circles as to whether this was the best decision for Victorian businesses.

Riskology’s Sarah-Jane O’Brien, for example, has questioned Wells’ decision.

“This doesn’t sit square shouldered with me.  Firstly they have not released the Price Waterhouse Coopers report which outlines these costs, they have only released a summary, they will also miss out on $50million which the federal government would have given in funding and it also throws a big stake in the heart of the harmonisation goals,” she wrote on her blog.

“Victoria as a state prides itself in saying they have the best safety laws in the country, but if the rest of the country are harmonising and Victoria is not, doesn’t this mean they are swimming against the progress of safety, I’ve always thought the KISS principle with safety worked, and harmonised laws were loosely aiming towards the KISS principle.

“One of the bigger changes with the harmonised laws is the definition ‘officer’ which brings in the financial decision makers.  So when a decision needs to be made about safety it doesn’t always get road blocked by the big man that signs the cheque. Isn’t the goal for harmonisation end of the day to save lives and reduce injuries, rather than closing the book when it passes under the bean counters nose?”

Meanwhile, workplace safety consultant Kevin Jones, while recognising that opting out of WHS harmonisation may be saving Victorian businesses from punitive OHS penalties and trumped-up business costs, has questioned whether the decision has made Victorian workers any safer.

Writing on the Safety at Work Blog, he stated that the following questions now need to be asked:

  • What standing will national Codes of Practice have in Victoria?
  • Will WorkSafe continue to participate in the development of laws, Codes and guidance material that will apply in Victoria?
  • In this period of budgetary frugality, why is the Victorian Treasurer is prepared to relinquish $A50 million of federal funding.
  • Will the Victorian Government release the full PwC Report instead of just the summary, so that the full costings analysis can be reviewed?
  • Can Victoria still claim to have the best OHS laws in Australia?

What does this mean to you?

If your business operates within Victoria, Lander & Rogers lawyers have offered the following advice:

  • The Victorian Government's decision not to pass the harmonised laws, means that, for businesses operating exclusively in Victoria, there will be no changes to occupational health and safety laws as a result of the harmonisation process.
  • Businesses operating across multiple Australian states and territories must now contend with the new harmonised laws, as well as ensuring compliance with different work health and safety laws in Western Australia and South Australia in the immediate future, and in Victoria indefinitely.
  • We recommend that all Australian businesses adopt a "best practice" approach in terms of achieving compliance with the work health and safety laws. That said, however, it is important to be aware that the parameters for best practice Australia-wide have shifted in the wake of the harmonised legislation, particularly in key areas such as director and officer duties and consultation.

What are your thoughts on the Victorian government’s decision to opt out of WHS harmonisation? Have your say by commenting below.

More stories:

New laws drastically increase mobile workforce risks. Are you prepared?

Business unprepared for new WHS laws: how to cover your back

Corporate Risk & Insurance forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions