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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 2135


Senator Siewert asked the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, upon notice, on 3 April 2008:

With reference to inspections of occupational health and safety (OHS) in Commonwealth workplaces and workers covered under Commonwealth agreements:

(1)   For each of the financial years 2003-04, 2004-05 and 2005-06, by state and territory, what was the number of OHS: (a) inspections; (b) investigations; (c) fines; and (d) prosecutions.

(2)   What administrative arrangements are currently in place for OHS regulation in Commonwealth workplaces and workers covered under Commonwealth agreements.


Senator Wong (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relationshas provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:

(1)  

(a)   Comcare’s regulatory model does not operate an OHS Inspectorate along the lines adopted by the state and territory OHS regulators. Given the different profile of workplaces covered by the Comcare scheme, that is, fewer and larger organisations with mature OHS management systems in place, Comcare operates with multi-skilled investigators, who investigate compliance by employers with their legal responsibilities by assessing the management systems the employers have implemented to meet their duty of care. Under Comcare’s regulatory framework compliance with OHS law takes a balance of proactive and reactive investigative interventions.

(1)  

(c)   and (d)

(2)   Legislative Framework The Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 (the OHS Act):

  • imposes general duties of care on employers, employees, manufacturers, suppliers, erectors and installers
  • places a statutory duty on every employer to consult with employees or their representatives on the development of health and safety management arrangements (HSMAs) which will enable effective cooperation in promoting and developing health, safety and welfare at work
  • provides for employee representation in OHS matters through the institutions of HSRs and health and safety committees.
The Act is supported by Regulations and approved Codes of Practice, both of which are legislative instruments. Guidance material and facts sheets are also available. The Regulations set out the mandatory supplementary provisions about various procedures, responsibilities and obligations associated with the OHS Act or specified hazards or types of work. There are two sets of Regulations, the:
  • Occupational Health and Safety (Safety Arrangements) Regulations 1991 sets requirements in relation to elections of health and safety representatives, incident notification, incident investigations and other matters, and
  • Occupational Health and Safety (Safety Standards) Regulations 1994 sets out mandatory requirements with respect to specific duties such as undertaking risk assessments and meeting license requirements in relation to specific risks in the workplace such as plant safety, noise, manual handling, hazardous substances, dangerous goods, confined spaces, major hazard facilities, electrical work, driver fatigue, construction and falls from two metres or more.
Approved Codes of Practice provide practical guidance on how employers should fulfil their responsibilities on how to achieve the performance outcomes. Approved codes of practice are designed to be used in conjunction with the OHS Act and Regulations. They have a legal status of evidence in proceedings and should be followed unless there is another means of achieving the same or better safety outcomes. In the case of an alleged breach of the OHS Act or Regulations, an approved Code of Practice is evidence in legal proceedings that relevant guidance on the issue was available and should have been followed. Guidance materials are approved by either Comcare or the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission and describe activities and procedures a duty holder should follow to meet the performance outcomes set in the OHS Act and regulations. Guidance material does not have legal status, but may be assessed by the courts on an objective basis in relation to what an employer knew or should have known in regard to ensuring they meet their duty of care. Fact sheets provide duty holders with information on OHS issues. Fact sheets are informative documents only and are not generally used as evidence in the case of a contravention of the OHS Act or Regulations. OHS Regulation Comcare takes a multi pronged approach to ensuring that organisations can and do comply with the OHS Act including:
  • compliance assistance, which involves Comcare in working with employers and employees in the jurisdiction to: