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Work Health and Safety — Ministers' Meetings

Work Health and Safety
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Ministers responsible for Work Health and Safety (WHS) from the Commonwealth and each state and territory meet to discuss and advance WHS issues of national importance. The meetings are chaired by the Commonwealth Minister for Industrial Relations, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash.

Communiqué summaries

Meeting of 3 December 2021

  • Review of the model Work Health and Safety laws
  • National Dust Disease Taskforce
  • Rider safety in the gig economy
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Inter-Governmental Agreement
  • SafeWork NSW – Centre for Work Health and Safety

Meeting of 20 May 2021

  • Model Law Review
  • Rider safety in the gig economy
  • Sexual harassment in the workplace

Read the communiqués

Use the following dropdowns to read the communiqués from past meetings.

Commonwealth, state and territory Ministers responsible for work health and safety (WHS) met today to advance priorities in support of the work health and safety of all Australians.

The meeting was chaired by Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Commonwealth Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations.

Review of the model Work Health and Safety laws

Ministers considered the progress made by Safe Work Australia (SWA) and the jurisdictions to implement the recommendations from the review of the model WHS laws undertaken by Marie Boland that were agreed to by the Ministers at the previous meeting on 20 May 2021.

Ministers noted that implementation of the agreed recommendations is on track, with measures to be completed or substantially completed by the end of 2022. Ministers commended SWA and its Members for the progress achieved on this important work.

National Dust Disease Taskforce

Ministers discussed the WHS-related findings of the Final Report of the National Dust Disease Taskforce (the Taskforce) and noted the Attorney-General and the Minister for Health and Aged Care are engaging with state and territory governments to develop a coordinated all of governments’ response.

Ministers discussed the importance of progressing measures to protect workers from occupational dust diseases, and noted the significant work undertaken by SWA and across individual jurisdictions to address the risks of exposure to respirable crystalline silica in light of the recent re emergence of silicosis.

Ministers agreed to refer the Taskforce’s Final Report to SWA for consideration as part of the regulatory impact analysis it has commenced on options to minimise worker exposure to respirable crystalline silica from a broad range of materials, processes and industries.

Rider safety in the gig economy

Ministers were provided updates on the work referred to SWA and the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities (HWSA) in relation to rider safety in the gig economy at their previous meeting. The referral of this work demonstrated a national commitment that more needs to be done to ensure the health and safety of delivery riders in the gig economy following a number of fatalities and serious injuries in the industry.

SWA has progressed work to promote and strengthen WHS-related education for delivery riders and is working on additional guidance for the industry. Ministers welcomed advice that HWSA has agreed to a national approach and campaign to support WHS outcomes for food delivery workers and that this has been prioritised and embedded into the HWSA forward work plan.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

Ministers were updated on the work undertaken by all jurisdictions in response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces. It was noted that the Commonwealth Government has fully implemented or fully funded 41 of 55 recommendations, and that work is underway on all remaining recommendations. No recommendations have been rejected.

Ministers also reported on current and future initiatives being undertaken in their respective jurisdictions to strengthen the WHS framework, with respect to sexual harassment in the workplace.

Inter-Governmental Agreement

Ministers discussed the review of the Inter-Governmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety (the IGA). Ministers previously agreed to defer the IGA review until the Model Law Review had been finalised, which occurred when the response to the review was agreed at the previous WHS Ministers’ meeting.

The review is an opportunity to shift focus from the development and implementation of the model WHS laws, to a focus on maintaining and increasing harmonisation across the jurisdictions and improving consistency of implementation and compliance with the laws, noting not all jurisdictions are harmonised.

The review process will commence in early 2022 and terms of reference will be agreed out of session.

SafeWork NSW – Centre for Work Health and Safety

Ministers were provided an update on the work being undertaken by SafeWork NSW’s Centre for Work Health and Safety, and its contribution to research and innovation on work health and safety issues of national significance. It was noted that engagement from other jurisdictions on the Centre’s projects is welcomed.

Next steps

Work Health and Safety Ministers agreed to continue meeting in 2022 to further progress measures to improve the health and safety of all Australians in the workplace.

  1. Australian Ministers responsible for work health and safety (WHS) convened today
    to discuss a range of important issues impacting the work health and safety of Australians.
  2. Positive and constructive discussions were held, with Ministers agreeing to a significant number of measures to improve WHS outcomes across the country.
  3. The meeting was chaired by Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Commonwealth Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations.

Review of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws

  1. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of Australia’s model WHS laws, and the need to ensure they remain fit-for-purpose (noting that Victoria does not have harmonised WHS laws).
  2. Ministers considered the recommendations from the review of the model WHS laws undertaken by Marie Boland and are pleased to confirm that agreement was reached for action on all of the 34 recommendations. In particular:

Ministers agreed that more must be done to prevent workplace deaths and serious injuries.

While the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria provided their support for an industrial manslaughter offence, the recommendation did not receive the required majority.

Ministers unanimously agreed to introduce gross negligence or equivalent as a fault element in the Category 1 offence in the model WHS Act. Ministers unanimously agreed that conduct involving gross negligence should attract more severe penalties under the model WHS laws, and will be a step towards improving prosecution rates for Category 1 offences. Ministers noted that this is in keeping with the risk-based approach of WHS laws. Ministers also agreed to further consider significant increases to penalties under the model WHS laws.

As part of their discussion in relation to workplace fatalities Ministers endorsed the National Principles to Support Families Following an Industrial Death, noting that significant work has been undertaken in this area by some jurisdictions.

A majority of Ministers agreed to amend the model WHS Regulations to deal with psychological injury. It was noted that a number of jurisdictions are already taking action and finalising Codes of Practice or Regulations relating to psychological health which would provide guidance to employers about complying with their duties under WHS laws and better protect workers from risks of psychological harm.

Rider safety in the gig economy

  1. Ministers noted that Safe Work Australia is developing national work health and safety guidance for the food delivery industry and agreed to refer work on promoting and strengthening education to Safe Work Australia, and refer work on compliance and enforcement initiatives in relation to food delivery platforms and riders to the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities for consideration.

Sexual harassment in the workplace

  1. Ministers noted the Commonwealth Government’s response to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces (Respect@Work report). Ministers gave an update on their current or planned work and initiatives directed at addressing sexual harassment in their respective jurisdictions, noting that states and territories are due to formally respond to the Commonwealth by the end of June 2021. Ministers noted that all Australian governments, as well as the private sector, have a role to play in responding to the Respect@Work report.

Next steps

  1. Ministers agreed to reconvene before the end of the year in order to receive progress reports from each jurisdiction and Safe Work Australia on the implementation of the agreed recommendations.