Strengthening of WHS laws as Act amended for negligence

Strengthening of WHS laws as Act amended for negligence

At the beginning of March, the Australian government passed amendments to the national Work Health and Safety Act which aim to make it easier to penalise negligent employers who put their employees’ health at risk. Under the Amendment Bill 2023, negligence is included as an at-fault element as it relates to category one offences.

These offences are categorised as a situation in which “a duty holder, without reasonable excuse, engages in conduct with gross negligence or is reckless as to the risk to an individual of death or serious injury or illness.”

Category one offences are the most serious category, and including negligence will ‘lower the bar’ for conviction, according to Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke.

“That means both reckless and grossly negligent employers can now face the most serious consequences and penalties,” he said in a media release.

The change to the act also sees the law react to situations where employers attempt to use their insurance to cover penalties they incur due to WHS fines. The aim is for the law to prohibit using insurance in this instance and act as a “proper deterrent”, Minister Burke explained.

“No longer will a penalty just be another line on a balance sheet that a negligent employer can recover from their insurer, while a family has lost a loved one in a workplace fatality.”

The updated legislation comes as Minister Burke also noted that eighteen Australian workers were killed in the first two months of this year.

“Each of these deaths is a tragedy. Each of these deaths represents a family member who will never come home, a friend or co-worker lost forever. But workplace deaths are preventable,” the minister said.

“This Bill has also been passed a week after the Government secured the support of the states and territories to consider a ban on dangerous engineered stone and to strengthen industrial manslaughter laws.”

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