Proposed new work health and safety laws in Western Australia are a step closer after passing the state’s upper house.

The Work Health and Safety Bill 2019 passed the Legislative Council last week and will now be sent to the Legislative Assembly for the final vote.

Based around the national Model Work Health and Safety Bill, the legislation aims to harmonise safety regulation in Western Australia with that elsewhere in the country.

An important feature of the bill is the introduction of the concept of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU).

Generally referring to people or corporations who run businesses or undertakings (including non-profits), the PCBU will have a primary duty of care to take all reasonably practical steps to ensure the safety of all workers who carry out work for them.

The Bill also extends protection to subcontractors and others who are not direct employees of the PCBU.

Under the duty referred to above, the responsibility of PCBUs extends to anyone who is a ‘worker’.

Under section 7, this term is given a broad definition to mean anyone who carries out work for the PCBU.

This includes (but is not limited to) not only direct employees but also contractors, subcontractors, employees of contractors and subcontractors, labour hire employees, outworkers, apprentices or trainees or work experience students.

Next, the Bill introduces two new offences for industrial manslaughter.

Under the first offence, those who commit breaches of WHS laws which lead to the death of one or more workers face penalties of $5 million for companies and $2.5 million and/or ten years jail for individuals under an industrial manslaughter – simple offence.

In the most egregious cases, meanwhile, an industrial manslaughter – crime offense will apply where the prosecution demonstrates that a person or company has engaged in conduct which they were aware was likely to cause death but recklessly disregarded that likelihood.

Maximum penalties under this offence are $10 million for companies and $5 million and/or twenty years’ jail for individuals.

The Bill also:

  • Prohibits the offering of insurance against fines imposed for WHS breaches.
  • Imposes a new duty of care upon providers of WHS services.

WA Premier Mark McGowan welcomed the Bill’s passage.

“I’m very pleased that the Work Health and Safety Bill has finally passed the Upper House,” McGowan said.

“This important Bill modernises Western Australia’s outdated workplace safety laws, which were over 30 years old.

“The health and safety of Western Australian workers is one of my Government’s key priorities; every worker has the right to come home safely from work each day.”

The Bill will now be sent to the Legislative Assembly for the final vote, which is expected on November 3.

If passed, it will become law once supporting regulations are finalised next year.

Should the Bill become law, Victoria will become the only state to not have harmonised its WHS laws with the national model laws.