Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 1 Hansard (12 February) . . Page.. 265..
MS GALLAGHER (continuing):
responsible to address safety risks at a workplace, before accidents and injuries occur; ensure that regulators can take appropriate enforcement action where compliance is not forthcoming, or there is risk of serious accident; and provide appropriately high penalties when contraventions of the act expose people to risk of serious harm or cause serious harm.
In December 2003, I introduced the Dangerous Substances Bill 2003. At that time, I said that the Dangerous Substances Bill was aligned with the Occupational Health and Safety Act with the objective of creating a larger, harmonised framework of work and safety legislation. Like the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the proposed dangerous substances legislation is based on positive duties of care.
This alignment strategy is developed through the bill I am introducing today, which will create a compliance and enforcement regime mirrored in the Dangerous Substances Bill. Importantly, consistency between the two regimes will assist work and safety inspectors in the proper exercise of their functions and assist employers to understand their obligations and the consequences of failing to meet these.
The measures in the bill are focused on establishing an appropriate penalty regime for serious offences, encouraging voluntary compliance, providing for a wider range of remedies to achieve compliance with the act and to ensure effective action can be taken in the face of a breach of the act, enhancing and modernising the enforcement powers of inspectors, and improving the capacity of employee representative organisations to engage meaningfully with employers in relation to matters of health and safety in the workplace.
The OH&S Act is focused on "positive obligations"in the form of workplace safety duties for employers in relation to employees and to third parties, employees, self-employed people, manufacturers and suppliers of plant and substances, and people erecting or installing plant. While these duties form the core of the legislation, the current maximum penalties provided for their breach-of $25,000 for natural persons and $125,000 for corporations-are relatively low. In addition, there is no provision for imprisonment in relation to duty offences.
The bill provides that breaches of safety duties are serious offences. Penalties for breaches are scaled to reflect the seriousness of the breach and its actual or potential consequences. Division 3.2 establishes a general offence for a failure to comply with a safety duty, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 for natural persons and $50,000 for corporations. This is a strict liability offence for which there is a defence of mistake of fact.
The reckless or negligent contravention of safety duties which exposes people to substantial risk of serious harm attracts a maximum penalty of $150,000 and $750,000 respectively, and an imprisonment term of five years, or both. The reckless or negligent contravention of safety duties that causes serious harm attracts a maximum penalty of $200,000 and $1 million respectively, and an imprisonment term of seven years, or both.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act is built on the fundamental premise that safety in the workplace is enhanced by the involvement of workers and their representative organisations. This requires support for both direct and representative union-based