Tonight’s Top Story – Will the New Work Health and Safety Bill Solve More Problems Than it Causes?

The new Work Health and Safety Bill introduced and passed in the WA State parliament lower house in February and last week passed in the upper house, advances new industrial manslaughter laws that have been mooted for some time now. In essence it means that individuals and business entities can be held responsible for the death of a worker and face serious penalties of incarceration or hefty fines. Some amendments by the upper house will need to be ratified in the lower house but it is expected to go through.

After the death, earlier in the month, of a worker on a construction site in Perth, unions staged a protest to put pressure on upper house members to act on the stalled legislation. Whether this was the catalyst for the upper house to finally vote on the legislation is hard to determine.

What is important now is that it has passed. There has been an outpouring of relief in some quarters that this has finally come to pass. Families Left Behind spokeswoman Regan Ballantine welcomed the passage of the bill. She has been the passionate spokesperson for the group since losing her 17 year old son in a workplace accident in 2017.

Unions and Families left behind have been campaigning for sometime now for the legislation to pass as they believe it will make a big difference in the way business conducts itself in regards to safety.

However not everyone is happy with the new legislation that exposes businesses owners, management and directors to large fines and incarceration. Some groups are saying that the new legislation goes too far and exposes employers to penalties for things that happen that are not within their control. Unfortunately because there are employers or people who work under them that like to cut shortcuts or do other things that put themselves or others at risk we will need legislation like this. I hope that these are the people that the legislation will target and not those that place the safety and well being of their health as a priority.

Lets look at an example that highlight what I mean. There are two companies in the same sort of business operating the same sort of machinery – The Good People Company and the Bad People Company. Both companies receive an urgent memo from a machinery manufacturer that says a piece of machinery they are operating could lose a rotating part that could cause serious injury or death to the operator or someone in the vicinity.

The Good People Company immediately take the piece of machinery out of service and advise their employees through a memo and a follow up toolbox meeting that until the manufacturer rectifies the problem the machine is not to be used.

The Bad People Company, knowing the machine is integral to the production process says nothing and their employees are allowed to continue using it, oblivious to the fault.

An employee from the Good People Company, anxious to get the job done quickly, and without the knowledge of anyone else uses the machinery he knows he shouldn’t use. In doing so the rotating part comes off, strikes him and kills him.

Over at the Bad People Company, a worker oblivious to the fault of the machinery, uses it as he has done many times before and the rotating part comes off and kills him.

Now when it comes to the Bad People Company, providing it can be proved that the company new of the fault and advice from the manufacturer, it would be a fairly easy decision to charge those who concealed the fault under the new legislation. I think most people would say it is obvious that the employer has culpability in this situation.

The Good People Company, under the new laws would still come under a lot of scrutiny, even if they proved they did everything in their power to inform employees and take the machinery out of service. Unfortunately, you cannot legislate for stupidity, which is what happened here but some groups are concerned that the new legislation will not take stupidity into account when dealing with workplace deaths.

On the whole I think it is good legislation, I just hope that businesses that are doing the right thing aren’t caught up in a piece of law that is intended to stop cowboys causing so much suffering.