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Employers terrorised by OH&S regulations

Employers terrorised by OH&S regulations

TERRORISM HAS forever changed the way we look at the workplace, says Deacons partner Michael Tooma, author of the new book Safety, Security, Health and Environment Law.At the book launch,…

TERRORISM HAS forever changed the way we look at the workplace, says Deacons partner Michael Tooma, author of the new book Safety, Security, Health and Environment Law.

At the book launch, attended by Hon. Lance Wright QC, Former President of the Industrial Court of NSW and NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos, Tooma pointed to the changes to changes to the social and political landscape since the September 11, 2001 terrorism attacks.

In particular, he emphasised the “far-reaching changes” in occupation health and safety (OH&S) laws, and the higher levels of accountability and liability now imposed on “C level” executives.

OH&S partner Tooma believes both employers and executives now face far greater exposure to liability. This follows the broadening of laws regulating the intersection of corporate activity, national security and the threat of terrorism.

“Laws relating to occupational security are often a sub-set of broader anti-terrorism and criminal laws and may not at first glance herald the important changes employers and business owners need to make to ensure they comply,” Tooma said.

“For example; developers, architects and builders will be ultimately responsible for designing and constructing buildings that are harder for terrorists to penetrate, or easier to evacuate in case of a terrorist attack,” he said. “However, this heightened level of responsibility may not yet be obvious to many in the building sector.”

There is still great uncertainty about the obligations and risks for business under the new regulations, Tooma said.

“The lines of responsibility are not yet absolutely clear because people can be prosecuted under different laws and currently it is the responsibility of each business in the supply and service chain to ensure they are not exposed.

“Business owners and executives are often responsible for the actions of employees, or third parties who form part of the supply chain,” he added.

One area of exposure Mr Tooma cited as potentially hazardous for employers is the requirement relating to critical infrastructure, wherein owners and operators must “prepare and annually audit a risk management plan that prevents or mitigates the effects of a terrorist act”.

“Up to 90 per cent of critical infrastructure in some parts of Australia is privately owned and operated — yet there is no single national law that clearly sets out the responsibilities, requirements and penalties for non-compliance for business owners and executives,” Tooma said.

Tooma advocated a unified national approach to the issue, calling for the Federal government to take action to protect businesses from inadvertent breaches of the new laws.

“A streamlined, national approach from government is required to ensure security risks to the people of Australia are properly identified and [that] non-compliance risks to Australian businesses due to ignorance of the laws are minimised,” he said.

Safety, Security, Health and Environment Law is published by: the Federation Press, Sydney.

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