Employers are keen to see how the new OHS laws will affect their workplaces. The Safety Show Sydney next week will host extra seminars on the new OHS laws after the first two booked out almost instantly.
The umbrella body responsible for developing the national model OHS legislation, Safe Work Australia, will present two seminars at The Safety Show and Sydney Materials Handling. Law firm Deacons will also host daily sessions at the trade shows to explain the changes in OHS laws and their implications for workplaces.
Running from October 27 to 29 at the Sydney Showground, The Safety Show Sydney and Sydney Materials Handling are timed perfectly for employers who grappling to understand the implications of the new laws, says organiser, Marie Kinsella of exhibition organisers Australian Exhibitions & Conferences .
"Public comment on the draft new laws is open right now and employers are desperate for information on how they will be affected, so these free seminars couldn't be more valuable," Ms Kinsella says.
Both the seminars on October 27 and 28 will be presented by Safe Work Australia’s model legislation project manager, Julia Collins. The Chair, Tom Phillips is part of a line-up of experts set to address the new laws at The Safety Conference held alongside The Safety Show.
The proposed new laws will affect union powers, the personal liability of company officers and even the onus of proof when safety breaches are judged in court. The draft laws have drawn spirited debate since their release in late September. One of those keen to comment is exhibitor at The Safety Show and chief executive of the Australian Federation of Employers and Industries, Garry Brack.
Mr Brack says smaller employers were frustrated with the risk management approach adopted by OHS laws.
"Smaller employers don't have the financial resources and in-house expertise to interpret what is 'reasonably practicable'. They say 'Tell us what we have to do'. They don't wanted to return to the lunacy of years ago where every nut and bolt was defined but they do need a more prescriptive approach and help from regulators."
Larger employers, Mr Brack says, are demanding a common system across the country, which the national model laws were designed to deliver but signalled caution.
College of Warehousing training director Bill Henman, also exhibiting, is also unsure of whether the new laws will deliver on their promise of harmonisation.
"National legislation is highly desirable to avoid the massive duplication of work for national organisations," Mr Henman says.
"Unfortunately, the legislation will be enforced by various state jurisdictions and this will result in variation between states in interpretations, penalties and the finer points of the legislation. The devil is in the detail. Different penalties in different states currently affect the priorities of safety managers and standardised penalties would provide better outcomes.
"The laws are only drafts and I fear that state governments will change them. If we’re really honest about it, we should have a federal OHS authority, as we have the Australian Federal Police, that would have the authority to shape safety in the various states and territories.
Moshe Woods, Australian Workplace Software director, expects to field plenty of questions about compliance from the expected 10,000 visitors to The Safety Show.
"The goal of national harmonisation of OHS laws is to remove many layers of legislative complexity for businesses," Mr Woods says. "It is also expected to reduce the reams of paperwork currently required of OHS staff as they contend with multiple state and territory laws. But the introduction of best practices and the model Act will require more than a few changes to the way that organisations currently meet their OHS obligations."
The Master Builders of NSW's OHS risk management officer, Tim Stootman, will tell members who visit The Safety Show that uniform national laws and regulations will be an improvement on the current state-based legislation.
"Master Builders supports the review of OHS laws and believes that this is an opportunity for better, rather than greater, OHS regulation," Mr Stootman says.
"Better, rather than greater, regulation will assist to improve OHS performance in the construction sector. Master Builders supports the rejection of what could be called a 'highest common denominator' approach to OHS duties. Essentially, this approach would have seen an absolute duty of care on employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and provides unions with the right to bring a prosecution for a breach of the OHS law, the latter a provision adopted in recent changes to the law in the ACT. The Draft National Model OHS Act is a positive step towards harmonisation of OHS laws in this country.”
Bookings are essential for the free OHS harmonisation seminars hosted by Deacons at The Safety Show and Sydney Materials Handling.