OHS harmonisation laws making more work for employers

New consultation requirements under the OHS harmonisation laws mean employers must improve their communication with employees, creating more leg-work for bosses.

The laws, due to take effect on 1 January 2012, mean employers have an obligation to consult workers and other duty holders on potential OHS issues in the workplace.

Kemp Strang employment lawyer, Ben Urry says: “That duty is very broad – both the definition of ‘worker’ and ‘workplace’ have been extended under the harmonised OHS laws, so there are more people that fall under an employer’s duty of care, and more places that they’ll have to ensure are safe to work in.”

Strang says the new laws dictate employers must consult on OHS issues where it is reasonably practicable to do so, which may be difficult to assess.

“Smart companies will err on the side of caution, and do more rather than less. This includes consulting with ‘short-term’ workers, such as tradespeople who turn up to fix the plumbing for 15 minutes.”

Consultation is necessary to identify and minimise risks and assess adequacy of working facilities when proposing changes or providing information that may affect health and safety.

“The buzzword is ‘proactive’. Companies can’t sit back and wait for another duty holder to come to them to consult on potential health and safety issues for workers. Regardless of a shared duty, the obligation is on both parties to consult, and there are hefty fines if you don’t.”

Kemp Strang has provided pointers for employers looking at their obligations. They advise keeping a written record of who was consulted and regarding what safety issue, having a contact list of people who need to be consulted and having ongoing discussion with those involved.

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