NEW model laws will harmonise occupational health and safety in every state except Western Australia from 2012.
The Workplace Relations Ministers' Council on Friday approved model provisions that will be adopted from 1 January 2012 as the Work Health and Safety Act.
For lawyers working in the area, advice to clients is centering around ensuring they take steps to ensure the business and officers comply with the laws when they commence.
Deacons OHS practice leader Michael Tooma and partner Barry Sherriff, who worked on the model laws, said there have been a number of significant changes to the Model Act since the draft was released for public comment. This includes a new definition of officer and due diligence, and a consultation obligation between duty holders.
The OHS experts said the new definition of due diligence is a welcome amendment as it provides certainty to officers in relation to the extent of their duty to exercise due diligence.
Tooma and Sherriff said clients should be aware that it typically takes 18 months to 2 years to undertake and embed organisational and policy change of the significance that will be required by the model laws.
Business has welcomed the decision by the Council to agree to a model OHS Act, but called on Western Australia to speed its progress towards participating in the national system.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Katie Lahey said the model OHS Act is a significant improvement on the 10 statutes and 400 regulations that existed previously across Australia.
"Harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws is one of the most important issues for businesses which operate across borders in Australia," Lahey said.
"Having many different systems for workplace safety across Australia imposes unnecessary costs on business with no benefit in terms [of] better safety outcomes. Different regulations also impede the movement of workers across jurisdictions."
Lahey said harmonisation of workplace safety laws is one of the greatest tests for the effectiveness of cooperative federalism through COAG.
Lahey said it is "disappointing" that Western Australia has decided not to enact the model Act at this stage. But, she said, "I am pleased the state has agreed to continue to work towards harmonisation with the new national system and to participate in Safe Work Australia".
She said Western Australia should "speed its progress" towards participating in the national system.
"For there to be a truly effective and efficient national system of workplace safety it needs the involvement of every jurisdiction in Australia."