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COSBOA rejects SWA reports mental health call

Safe Work Australia called out on limited focus in WHS law review


The Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) has rejected a final Safe Work Australia (SWA) work health and safety (WHS) law review report as limited and “dangerous” and is demanding that it be withdrawn.

While what is known as the Boland Report covers the whole WHS Act, at issue for COSBOA is a focus on workplace mental health that it says fails to include that suffered by business owner or the self-employed and opens small business owners to unreasonable and unrealistic risk.

“If there are five people in a workplace and we only talk about the mental health of four of them, do we not fail those four people?” COSBOA CEO Peter Strong asks.

“If the employer, the one ignored, has a mental health problem, will that not worry the four employees? Would they not be concerned for their employer? Would they not be concerned for their jobs and their income and their own future mental health?

“If the recommendations of the report are implemented, then every workplace in Australia will be less safe.

“This is ideology getting in the way of reality, this is potentially a regulator imposing their ideological view of the world onto a group they demand be experts on a subject that is objective, confusing and challenging – mental health.”

Read about the late payments effort COSBOA helped push, here

The organisation is concerned at how the ramifications of recommendations will interact, specifically:

psychological health and safety of workers being given equal consideration to their physical health and safety

the introduction of an industrial manslaughter offence.

It argues that it is “the combination of these two recommendations that leads to the concern that employers could be held responsible for the mental health of their employees and potentially charged with manslaughter if a mental health condition results in an employee self-harming”.

“The safety regulators will demand that every employer somehow or other become experts on mental health. That is not possible,” Strong says.

COSBOA also points to the potential for unintended consequences due to raising the risk to employers of employing those already suffering mental health issues thereby adding to “the societal stigma against mental health issues that COSBOA and other groups have been fighting to remove”.

“This report and its recommendations will enhance the stigma and send a message that employing someone with a mental health problem could result in prison,” Strong argues.

The Boland Report follows a direction last year from ministers responsible for WHS for SWA to undertake a review of the model WHS laws.

Consultations that began in late June focus on:

  • introducing regulations dealing with psychological health
  • new arrangements for health and safety representatives (HSR) and work groups in small businesses
  • clarifying workplace entry of HSR assistants and HSR entry permit holders
  • providing HSR with choice of training course
  • providing a process for resolving disputes about WHS issues
  • including gross negligence as an element of the Category 1 offence
  • introducing an industrial manslaughter offence

The review details and the report can be found here.


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