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Sensible safety in South Australia

November 2012

After more than 18 months and at least three attempts, South Australia has finally passed new work safety (OHS) laws.  Originally the ‘harmonised’ OHS model was to have been implemented in full. ICA campaigned hard against this because the harmonised model laws have big flaws. We explained why the harmonised laws should not proceed.

The legislation has now gone ahead but with major changes.

Key changes

Control: Key protection inserted
Under the harmonised model laws, people who did not have control of work situations faced the risk of being prosecuted/convicted for OHS incidents over which they did not have control. The SA (Darley) amendments have inserted the word ‘control’ into a relevant section of the Bill. This clarifies that a person who does not have control of a workplace situation will not face the risk of prosecution/conviction for an OHS incident.

Removes volunteers from prosecution/conviction risk
Under the harmonised model laws, volunteers are subject to prosecution/conviction under the Act. The SA (Darley) amendments ensure that volunteers who do work:
a)    for not-for-profit organizations
b)    as body corporate officers (eg) apartment blocks etc
will not face the risk of prosecution/conviction.

OHS Representatives (usual union reps) powers
The harmonised laws give union OHS representatives wide and almost unlimited powers. A series of SA amendments places limitations on what the OHS rep can do including:
  • Not being able to interview people not associated with the workplace.
  • Detailing how they must issue notices and what documents they may inspect.

Reinsertion of the right to silence and protection from self-incrimination
The harmonised model laws remove the right to silence and protection from self-incrimination that is available under normal criminal law. OHS law is a form of criminal law. The SA (Darley/Lib) amendments reinsert the right to silence and protection from self-incrimination.

Codes of Practice—Small Business Commissioner Role
In a significant development for small business, the SA (Darley) amendments create a real role for the SA Small Business Commissioner in reviewing Codes of Conduct as they may impact on small business people.

Act to be reviewed in 2014 and 2017
The operation of the Act is to be reviewed after one year and then again after another 3 years. This will give a potential opportunity for further amendments.

What’s not addressed: Meaning of “Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU)”
The harmonised laws introduce a new and legally untested concept of who is responsible for OHS. Who/what is a PCBU is confusing to say the least. The SA amendments address the confusion to an extent by removing volunteers. But still the PCBU meaning is unclear and will take considerable legal testing to be made clear. Hopefully this aspect will be a key part of the review in 2014.  

SA-OHS (Darley and others) Amendments Nov 2012

Below are the important amendments in the new Act.

Note that (Darley) refers to John Darley, the independent in the SA Upper House who negotiated most of the amendments with the government.

The amendments or additions to the harmonised model laws are shown in red.

Control (Darley)

17—Management of risks
(1)    A duty imposed on a person to ensure health and safety requires the person—
(a)    to eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable; and
(b)    if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, to minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

(2)        A   person   must   comply   with   subsection   (1)  to   the   extent   to   which   the   person   has   the   capacity  to  influence  and  control  the  matter  or  would  have  that  capacity  but  for  an  agreement  or   arrangement  purporting  to  limit  or  remove  that  capacity

Volunteers (Darley)

34. Exceptions
 (1) To avoid doubt, an officer of a prescribed strata/community titles corporation who is a volunteer does not commit an offence for a failure to comply with a duty under section 27 (but may be liable for a failure to comply with another duty under this Act).

(2) A volunteer does not commit an offence under this Division for a failure to comply with a health and safety duty, except a duty under section 28 or 29.
An unincorporated association does not commit an offence under this Act, and is not liable for a civil penalty under this Act, for a failure to comply with a duty or obligation imposed on the unincorporated association under this Act.

(3) However—
 (a) an officer of an unincorporated association (other than a volunteer) may be liable for a failure to comply with a duty under section 27; and
(b) a member of an unincorporated association may be liable for failure to comply with a duty under section 28 or 29.

(4) In this section— prescribed strata/community titles corporation means—
(a)    a body corporate established under the Strata Titles Act 1988 or the Community Titles Act 1996; or
(b)    a company that holds land for the purposes of a building unit scheme consisting of 2 or more properties designed for separate occupation where the buildings comprising the scheme were erected before 22 February 1968.

Union OHS Reps powers (Lucas)

68—Powers and functions of health and safety representatives

In exercising a power or performing a function, the health and safety representative may—
(g) whenever necessary, request the assistance of any person

Subsection  (2)(g)  does  not  extend  beyond  ␣  
(a) a  person  who  works  at  the  workplace;  or   
(b) a  person  who  is  involved  in  the  management  of  the  relevant  business  or  undertaking;  or   
(c) a  consultant  who  has  been  approved  by  ␣  
(i)    the  Advisory  Council;  or   
(ii)    a  health  and  safety  committee  that  has  responsibilities  in  relation  to  the  work  
group  that  the  health  and  safety  representative  represents;  or
(iii)    the   person   conducting   the   business   or   undertaking   at   the   workplace   or   the persons’ representative  

Right of Entry (Darley)

Relating to the right of entry that a WHS permit holder (union official) has, great specifity applied in the issuing of notices, to the owner/manager of a business entry, obtaining of documents etc.


Right to silence and protection from self-incrimination restored (Darley & Lucas)

172—Abrogation of privilege against self-incrimination
(1) A person is not excused from answering a question or providing information or a document under this Part on the ground that the answer to the question, or the information or document, may tend to incriminate the person or expose the person to a penalty.
(2) However, the answer to a question or information or a document provided by an individual is not admissible as evidence against that individual in civil or criminal proceedings other than proceedings arising out of the false or misleading nature of the answer, information or document.

Clause  172␣Delete  this  clause  and  substitute:  
 172␣Protection  against  self-­‐incrimination   A  person  is  excused  from  answering  a  question  or  providing  information  or  a  document  under  this   Part  on  the  ground  that  the  answer  to  the  question,  or  the  information  or  document,  may  tend  to   incriminate  the  person  or  expose  the  person  to  a  penalty.

Codes of Practice—Small Business Commissioner  (Darley)

274—Approved codes of practice
 (1) The Minister may approve a code of practice for the purposes of this Act and may vary or revoke an approved code of practice.

(2) The Minister may only approve, vary or revoke a code of practice under subsection (1) if that code of practice, variation or revocation was developed by a process that involved consultation between—
(a)    the Governments of the Commonwealth and each State and Territory; and
(b)    unions; and
(c)    employer organisations.

(2a) In  connection  with  the  operation  of  subsections  (1)  and  (2)␣  
(a) the   Small   Business   Commissioner   must   be   consulted   before   a   code   of   practice   is   submitted   to   the  Minister  under  this  section  so  that  the  Commissioner  may  assess  whether  the  code  of  practice   would   affect   small   business   if   implemented   and,   if   so,   provide   any   comments   or   advice   that   the   Commissioner   considers   to   be   appropriate   in   the   circumstances   (including   that   the   code   be   varied);  and  
(b) if  the  Small  Business  Commissioner  recommends  that  a  code  of  practice  be  varied,  the  Minister   may  make  such  a  variation  without  the  need  to  adopt  the  process  envisaged  by  subsection  (2)  (but   may  undertake  such  consultation  in  relation  to  the  matter  as  the  Minister  thinks

Review of the Act after 1 year  (new section)

277 Reviews

(1)The   Minister   must   cause   a   review   of   the   operation   of   this   Act   to   be   conducted   as   soon   as   practicable  after  the  expiry  of  1  year  from  its  commencement.

(2)The   review   under   subsection   (1)   must   include   a   specific   report   on   the   extent   to   which   inspectors   have   attended   at   workplaces   under   section   117   and   an   assessment   of   the   operation   and  effectiveness  of  the  policy  established  by  the  Executive  Director  under  that  section. 

(3)The   Minister   must   then   cause   a   second   review   of   the   operation   of   this   Act   to   be   conducted   as   soon  as  practicable  after  the  expiry  of  3  years  from  its  commencement. 

(4)The  results  of  a  review  under  this  section  must  be  embodied  in  a  written  report.  

(5)The   Minister   must,   within   6   sitting   days   after   receiving   a   report   under   subsection   (4),   cause   a   copy  of  the  report  to  be  laid  before  both  Houses  of  Parliament.

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