Business and industry converge for OH&S debate

Business and industry groups join forces to support national harmonisation of workplace safety laws at ministerial meeting tomorrow

September 24, 2009

Leading business and industry groups are joining forces to support the national harmonisation of workplace safety laws at a ministerial meeting tomorrow.

The Australian Industry Group, Business Council of Australia (BCA), and Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) are calling for State Governments to press forward with a single system of laws to deliver the best safety outcomes in Australian workplaces.

Workplace relations ministers will be asked tomorrow to approve the release of the exposure draft of the model OHS Act that will streamline Australia’s multiple occupational health and safety systems.

The exposure draft model Act has been recommended to the ministers by the Safe Work Australia Council.

AI Group Chief Executive Heather Ridout says the meeting should resolve that a national OHS legal framework will result in safer workplaces.

"The draft Bill being considered tomorrow is the result of a very extensive review by a tripartite panel of experts, based on evidence of what delivers demonstrably safer workplaces, and the laws are designed to raise safety standards across Australia," Ridout says.

"Ai Group urges all governments to move forward with the model which has already been agreed by COAG. This is not about reducing compliance it is about allowing companies to focus on safety outcomes rather than navigating many different systems simultaneously," she says.

BCA Chief Executive Katie Lahey agrees harmonising inconsistent workplace safety laws is one of the key issues for businesses operating in more than one State.

"This reform has been more than twenty years in the making and is a major piece of unfinished microeconomic reform in Australia," Lahey says.

"Ironing out Australia’s workplace safety laws is also a major part of COAG’s seamless national economy agenda, which the Prime Minister has identified as a priority area of reform," she says.

"If our Governments fail to harmonise our jumble of workplace safety laws then as far as business is concerned COAG’s seamless economy agenda will also be considered a failure."

There are currently 10 principal statutes governing OHS in Australia on top of numerous regulations and codes of practice.

MCA Chief Executive Mitchell Hooke agrees Australia needs a single OHS Act in addition to national codes of practice and guidelines.

"This raft of overlapping laws, standards and requirements is confusing for workers and diverts business from the primary goal of improving workplace safety," Hooke says.

"The minerals industry is committed to zero harm – an industry free of fatalities, injuries and diseases," he says.

The proposed new workplace safety system has the support of safety regulators and all Governments have signed up to the principle of a harmonised system.

The AI Group insists it is critical for all State and Territory Governments to follow through on their part of the deal.

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