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Changes ahead for South Australia’s work health and safety laws

Following an independent review of work health and safety (WHS) laws in South Australia, the Parliament has implemented changes to the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) (WHS Act), due to come into operation in the second half of 2024.

The most notable changes are in the following three key areas:

1. Disclosure of information

The WHS Act has been amended to allow SafeWork SA to disclose information about a workplace incident to persons directly affected by the incident, being the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU), workers or family of injured workers. SafeWork SA will publish a policy later this year outlining the circumstances when information may be disclosed.

2. Dispute resolution

The South Australian Employment Tribunal (SAET) has been given broader powers to assist in WHS dispute resolution and to impose civil penalties. If the regulator is not able to resolve the dispute, the matter can be referred to the SAET by the PCBU or a worker, if it involves a serious risk to health and safety and the PCBU employs more than 15 workers.

3. Right of entry

Union officials who hold a WHS entry permit must notify SafeWork SA if they enter a worksite but will no longer be required to issue a report to SafeWork SA about the visit. If they do issue a report, SafeWork SA will have to advise the WHS permit-holder about their response to the report. A WHS permit-holder who enters a workplace to investigate suspected WHS contraventions will also lawfully be able to make recordings and take measurements relevant to the suspected contravention, subject to maintaining any required confidentiality regarding the material.

The SAET will also have power to issue a ‘probationary declaration’ against a union. A declaration can be made if the union has a significant record of refusing or failing to comply with obligations applying to WHS right of entry. The declaration remains operational for 2 years, during which time the union cannot seek penalty orders from SAET. Also, during the period of operation of the declaration, officials of that union who hold a WHS entry permit must notify SafeWork SA before exercising a right of entry to investigate suspected WHS contraventions, and must provide a written report to SafeWork SA within 14 days setting out the details of their investigation.

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