With over 140,000 claims in the FY04-05 (data released by the Australian Safety & Compensation Council) that resulted in a workplace injury with an absence from work of one week or more, the issue of injuries in the workplace should be as important as pay and conditions.
We have previously seen the Coalition Government open the way toward a Federal OHS system through the Comcare regime, and extend its operation to cover self-insured private corporations. The Labor Party, on the other hand, has promised to pursue a harmonisation project with the states to implement a national OHS system in phases.
However, the success of such uniformity will ultimately depend on the level of state and territory cooperation as many of the current state and territory OHS frameworks are inconsistent with the federal laws. Employers and other duty holders are required to comply with different safety obligations depending upon which state they operate in.
For example, three such inconsistencies include:
- Some jurisdictions contain specific provisions relating to deaths in the workplace and the prosecution of employers, while others do not;
- There are different risk assessment and hazard identification obligations depending upon the jurisdiction; and
- Maximum penalties for both corporations and individuals differ in each jurisdiction.
Now that we're moving toward adopting a national industrial relations system, it is essential that a uniform approach also be taken towards workplace safety to ensure a more simplistic system for national employers so that safety is not compromised in the workplace and workplace injuries and illnesses are minimised. It remains to be seen whether Labor's intentions to create such uniformity will be realised.