Whilst Western Australia never quite made it out of the starting gate, the majority of other Australian jurisdictions (with the exception of Victoria) have since enacted harmonised OHS legislation based on the Model Legislation published in or about 2010. Having spent considerable time and resources in preparation for the Model legislation that never came, it is unsurprising that many Western Australian industries are a little jaded and more than a little confused.

However, some recent developments provide a strong indication of impending change in the Western Australian health and safety sector.  

In July 2017, the McGowan Government gave the go ahead for the development of a modernised Work Health and Safety Bill (the Bill) for Western Australia. Prompted by the harmonised legislation, the objective of the modernised Bill is to improve consistency with the rest of Australia whilst supporting industry specific regulations to suit the Western Australia’s unique conditions.

The Bill will replace the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1984), the Mines Safety and Inspection Act (1994) and the Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Safety Levies Act (2011).

By implementing a single, unified Act it will streamline compliance obligations across all industry, in particular the resources and energy sectors. The Government is still considering whether the Dangerous Goods Safety Act (2004) will also be incorporated into the single modernised Act, or will remain as a standalone piece of legislation.

The anticipated introduction of this Bill is mid-2019, with the Government keen to ensure that the development of the Bill incorporates extensive consultation with all stakeholders. The Government is currently in the process of setting up a Ministerial Advisory Panel to facilitate effective industry wide consultation and to provide constructive advice as to the proposed content of the Bill.

Whilst it is too early to speculate as to the substance of the Bill, we consider that there will likely be significant change to content and terminology in order to address current health and safety concerns.

In the meantime, the Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Bill 2017 has recently been introduced to the Legislative Assembly. The objective of which, is to amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1984) to increase penalties for safety related offences in WA. The new higher penalties align current penalties to the closest applicable penalties under the Model Work Health and Safety legislation.

The proposed provisions involve significantly higher maximum fines for (second and subsequent offences), including:

  • corporations, increasing from $625,000 to $3,500,000;
  • individuals, increasing from $312,500 to $680,000; and
  • employees, increasing from $6,250 to $60,000.  

As well as maximum imprisonment sentences increasing from 2 to 5 years for individuals.

The Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Bill 2017 is due to be introduced to the Legislative Assembly on 10 November 2017.

We will keep you updated as both the Occupational Safety and Health Amendment Bill 2017 progresses through Parliament and the modernised Work Health and Safety Bill is developed.