Industry supports safer workplaces, not criminalising accidents

The Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Bill introduced into Parliament by the State Government takes significant steps to harmonise WHS settings with the Commonwealth and other States and rightly omits the proposed powers for unions to mount prosecutions. However, it goes too far in seeking to introduce industrial manslaughter provisions without appropriate consultation with industry.

WA industry is fully committed to safer workplaces and any workplace tragedy is one too many. That’s why CCIWA is committed to existing settings which are successfully reducing the occurrence of workplace tragedies and penalising individuals who negligently or purposefully cause harm. In fact, the recently increased penalties in WA ensure that our State’s settings are already higher than the national model. This strong commitment to safety also means CCIWA and its members support the State Government’s decision to add 20 more WorkSafe WA inspectors.

However, the State Government simply has not followed a proper consultation process in relation to the introduction of new industrial manslaughter provisions. The business community deserves a significant period of consultation on such a critical piece of legislation.

We share the State Government’s objective of continuing to reduce the occurrence of workplace tragedies, but industrial manslaughter provisions will not achieve that. The Bill’s current provisions run contrary to evidence in other jurisdictions and would undermine hard-won progress.

There has been a significant and continuing decline in the occurrence of workplace tragedies nationally, a reduction of 62 per cent since 2007. This has been secured through collaboration between employers and workers focused on boosting the enforcement of safety standards and improving education.

The State Government’s premise for introducing these provisions is that they impose a deterrent effect on employers. But punitive measures against employers have had no impact in reducing the occurrence of workplace deaths in other jurisdictions. Despite the introduction of industrial manslaughter provisions in the Australian Capital Territory in 2004, their rate of serious workplace injuries has been worse than Western Australia’s rate for the last 12 years. In the United Kingdom, there was no change to the trend in workplace deaths following the introduction of industrial manslaughter provisions. The UK example also highlights the particular vulnerability of small businesses. 96 per cent of prosecutions under similar provisions targeted micro, small and medium businesses, which don’t have the resources to adequately defend these complex legal cases.

The WA business community calls on the WA Parliament to support the continuing improvement of workplace safety by excluding these provisions. In particular, CCIWA urges the Opposition and members of the crossbench to oppose the Government’s provisions and take a common-sense approach. This should include providing resources to support a joint WorkCover and WorkSafe strategy to prevent work-related musculoskeletal disorders, the most common cause of workplace tragedies.

The Government’s provisions introduce a culture of blame, undermine progress and cooperation, and distract from the ongoing need for practical steps to continue making workplaces safer.

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