On 4 June 2020, a bill to amend the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW) (Act) passed the NSW Parliament.
The Work Health and Safety Amendment (Review) Bill 2020 (Bill) was assented to on 10 June and the changes have now commenced.
The changed laws are intended to implement some of the recommendations from the 2018 Review of the Model WHS laws (which we discussed here) by Safe Work Australia appointed independent reviewer, Marie Boland.
Despite the recommendation by Marie Boland that a separate offence for industrial manslaughter should be introduced, the Bill does not create the offence of industrial manslaughter. However, the Bill inserts a note that the death of a person at work may also constitute manslaughter under the Crimes Act 1900 in certain circumstances. Currently, a separate offence for industrial manslaughter exists in a number of other jurisdictions including the ACT, Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria.
Some of the key changes to the Act are explained below.
Category 1 offence (section 31)
The Bill expands the Category 1 offence by including an alternative fault element. Before the change, a Category 1 offence only referred to “reckless conduct”. However, it now includes “gross negligence” as an alternative to reckless conduct, capturing those duty-holders engaging in grossly negligent conduct that exposes an individual to a risk of death or serious harm.
The Bill introduces a penalty unit system to replace monetary amounts for offences in the Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW) (Regulation). The value of a unit is set at $100 for the 2019–2020 financial year, which will be increased every year subject to the consumer price index (CPI). The new penalty unit system will apply to offences that occur after 10 June 2020.
While implementing the penalty unit system, the Bill increases fines in the Act and the Regulation. For example, maximum fines for Category 1, 2 and 3 offences under the Bill are as follows:
Insurance or indemnity arrangements
The Bill creates a new offence of entering into, providing or taking benefit of insurance or indemnity arrangements with respect to the monetary penalties for offences under the Act. Officers of a body corporate committing the offence may also be liable for the offence. This will apply to any prosecution going forward.
Powers of an inspector
The Act allows an inspector who enters a workplace to require you to produce documents and answer questions. The Bill expands this power by allowing an inspector to exercise the power not only when an inspector enters a workplace but for up to a further 30 days without having to re-enter the workplace.
However, the Bill now includes a notice requirement for any person being required to answer the inspector’s questions at a specified location. The inspector must give notice of a reasonable time and place for the person to attend to provide information.
Procedure if prosecution is not brought
Prior to the change, a person who reasonably considers that a Category 1 or 2 offence has occurred, and no prosecution has yet been brought, could make a written request to the regulator that a prosecution be brought, no later than 12 months after the incident. The Bill extends this period to 18 months with the view that the extended timeframe would assist in reviewing the workplace incident more effectively.
The Bill imposes additional responsibility on the regulator by requiring the regulator to provide updates on the progress of the investigation to the person who has made a request at least every three months until the investigation is complete and a decision is made as to whether a prosecution will be brought.
Authors: Michael Selinger & Jamie Kim
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