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Lawyers warn: gaps in workplace laws

Lawyers warn: gaps in workplace laws

Lawyers say a harmonisation of health and safety laws may cut red tape, but will do little to affect safety outcomes.

A harmonisation of health and safety laws may cut red tape, but will do little to affect safety outcomes, a leading lawyer has claimed. 

Hall & Wilcox partner Penny Stevens and special counsel Nicole Fauvrelle say new model legislation is "unlikely to dramatically effect the way safety is actually achieved". 

The comments come after the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council approved the release of the exposure draft of model laws last week. 

Proponents of harmonised health and safety laws claim a national system will improve safety outcomes, reduce compliance costs and improve efficiency. 

"The bulk of changes to normal business from a health and safety perspective will be contained in the detailed regulations and any supporting material yet to be drafted," the Hall & Wilcox lawyers said. 

The controversial aspects of the model laws centre on considerations that demand attention when systems have failed, Stevens and Fauvrelle said. This includes the positive duty on officers to exercise due diligence, penalty increases and the removal of the privilege against self-incrimination for individuals.

"The imposition of a positive duty on officers to exercise due diligence to ensure the company complies with its health and safety duties means companies may need to review their current arrangements with a view to assisting their officers in achieving this higher threshold."

Large businesses will need to ensure their senior management are adequately supported, and that they have the tools to assist them in exercising due diligence. The Hall & Wilcox lawyers warn It will be important for managerial roles and responsibilities to be clearly defined and properly executed.  

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