SafeWork Australia and unions clash over safety standards as businesses eye reopening

SafeWork Australia and unions clash over safety standards as businesses eye reopening

Diane Smith-Gander, independent chair for SafeWork Australia has moved against tighter workplace safety regulation as businesses across the country look to reopen their businesses, as lockdown restrictions ease.

Ms Smith-Gander believes that governments shouldn’t be ‘too prescriptive’ in their approach to safety measures and should consider what’s appropriate for their individual industry.

She reiterated that this did not mean that businesses should be lax in their approach to the health and safety standards, and businesses should continue to comply with Australia’s stringent WHS regulation.

Australian businesses have a responsibility to provide a “healthy and safe working environment” and Ms Smith-Gander said, “we’ve got to let that system operate.”

“If we try to over-regulate and over-legislate, we will have unintended consequences for sure.”

While the health and safe working environment requirements are legislated under the WHS Act 2011, recommendations by government health departments like reducing physical meetings, including hand sanitiser in workplaces and moving away from hotdesking, are not, which some union leaders believe is leaving employees open to risk.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus believes the new health and safety requirements should be enshrined in workplace law, preventing employers from “driving a truck” through them.

Attorney-General Christian Porter disagrees, explaining that SafeWork had created material to guide employers on how to report and manage cases of Covid-19. He did concede that the government was open to an ACTU proposal “encouraging the states to adopt more uniform rules about when businesses have to tell workplace regulators about COVID-19 cases.”

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