On 15 August 2019, the Minister for Employment and Workplace Safety, Rachel Stephen-Smith MLA, (the Minister) introduced the Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2019 (the Bill) into the ACT Assembly. The key purpose of the Bill according to the Minister's media release is to “enhance the independence, transparency, accountability and scrutiny of WorkSafe ACT”.
The Bill amends the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT) (the Act) and makes a number of amendments in response to the 2018 Independent review of the ACT's work safety compliance infrastructure, policies and procedures (the Independent Review).
The Independent Review was announced in May 2018. The object of the review was to assess the ACT’s work health and safety compliance infrastructure and was conducted by the Nous Group, an expert organisation in the field of work health and safety compliance. The review was completed in August 2018, producing a final report that included 27 recommendations on how to make WorkSafe ACT a more effective work health and safety regulator.
In October 2018 the final report of the review was tabled in Parliament and the government announced its in-principle support for the report's recommendations.
A key finding of the Independent Review was that the regulator’s governance model could be improved by making legislative changes to the Act. The key design principles underpinning the new legislative governance arrangements established by the Bill are twofold:
The Independent Review identified a lack of “role clarity” and “confusion among stakeholders as to the current role of work safety commissioner” (see the Independent Review at p 8).
As a result, the Bill removes the current role of work safety commissioner from the Act and would implement a new approach.
The Bill establishes WorkSafe ACT as the Office of the Work Health and Safety Commissioner (the Office), making it an “independent and separate entity” under the Act. The Office would have overarching functions including the previous functions of the work safety commissioner of education, research and awareness raising.
Specifically, the Office’s responsibilities would include:
The Bill would also create a single statutory role of the Work Health and Safety Commissioner (WHS Commissioner), who, along with the staff of WorkSafe ACT, would constitute WorkSafe ACT.
The responsibilities of the WHS Commissioner would be:
The WHS Act would be amended so that the WHS Commissioner is the regulator, which would then vest the functions of the regulator in the WHS Commissioner. Transparency of funding and accountability are to be maintained by establishing annual reporting and financial reporting requirements for the Office and establishing it as a “public sector body” for the purposes of the Annual Reports (Governance Agencies) Act 2004 (ACT). The Office will also be a separate directorate for the purposes of the Financial Management Act 1996 (ACT).
Further transparency and accountability for WorkSafe ACT would be achieved through the preparation of the compliance and enforcement protocol, strategic plan and statement of operational intent, and the Bill requires these documents to be regularly updated and publicly available, allowing stakeholders to better understand the activities of the Office and have informed expectations about its compliance activities and priorities.
Furthermore, the Bill, according to the Minister, ensures the ACT Work Health and Safety Council advisory role to the Minister includes matters relating to the performance and activities of the Office. Additionally, through the Council, stakeholders will be given the opportunity to provide input into:
The Bill also proposes to change the term “work safety” in schedule 2 of the WHS Act to “work health and safety” to ensure consistency across the WHS Act.
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Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2019 [ACT], Explanatory Statement and Presentation Speech as reported in TimeBase's LawOne Service.
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