Jail Time Shifts Workplace Safety for Employers

In 2018, the WA Government introduced new Workplace Safety legislation reinforcing compliance in the workplace, imposing strict rules and harsh penalties. Changes were made to the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act), and the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 (MSI Act).

These changes forced many companies to place the health and safety of their workforce at the top of their priorities. The consequences of failing to do so are severe, with fines of up to $2.7 million and Directors risking jail terms of up to five years.

The issue has received great scrutiny following the case of Director Mark Thomas Withers, the first person to be imprisoned under WA’s workplace safety and health laws. His sentence of two years and two months imprisonment for gross negligence, resulting in a worker’s death and serious injury of another, is the longest term of imprisonment ever related to workplace safety and health offence in Australia. WorkSafe WA Commissioner Darren Kavanagh said it doesn’t get much worse than this. The company MT Sheds was also fined $550,000 as part of the incident.

Since the sentence, the Government has committed to introducing a new offence, including industrial manslaughter, with fines of up to $10 million and 20 years in prison. They plan to make these changes on January 1st, 2022 – as part of the Work Health and Safety Act.

As a manager or business owner, you must be proactive, and it is no longer acceptable to sit, hoping for the best and waiting for tragedy to happen.

At WCA Solutions, Bernard Mackin commented,

“We are seeing an increased focus on HR Risk and Governance protocols and culture amongst our clients. We are supporting them to identify any gaps that may exist within their policies, procedures, and risk management strategies to address any workplace safety risks. As an outsourced consultant, we can assist organisations that do not have the infrastructure, time, or expertise to do this in-house.

It is essential that business leaders and organisations implement appropriate measures to create a workplace free of injury and harm to their people. Your business reputation, your employees and your own liabilities depend on it.”

What The Legislation Means For Your Businesses

The WA Government said that there is an expectation that every worker has the right to come home safely after a day of work.

A reactive game is risky and dangerous with significant consequences. Business owners and managers must be proactive and solution-driven to meet their obligations to workers, their families and themselves. If a business leader is in doubt about the safety measures and safety culture within their company, they should engage experts to review safety risks including policies, procedures, and culture within their organisation. 

Could your company handle a $50,000 or $500,000 fine? What would you do if the CEO went to prison? These are not hypothetical questions; they are harsh realities.

Harsher penalties are intended to focus managers on eliminating hazards and minimising risks in the workplace. The WHS instructs a duty of care on Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) and you must uphold specific safety and health standards.

If you can showcase proactivity and the desire to mitigate risk, including anticipating potential hazards in your field of work, then you are setting yourself up for a more defendable position. It is essential to have adequate Occupational Safety and Health policies and procedures in a written form available to staff and they all should have regular and up-to-date training.

WCA Solutions recommends that businesses engage an independent external expert to conduct a regular and comprehensive risk analysis of their workplace safety risks, protocols and culture to identify opportunities for improvement. 

Where to start?

Strict laws and harsh penalties can seem overwhelming and confusing. WCA Solutions is an outsourced Human Resources and Industrial Relations consulting firm. We support clients to address and manage their HR and IR risks including the capabilities of their people and the culture of the organisation.

Employees want to feel safe at work, and companies want to provide safe workplaces. WCA can help create a specific, compliant plan which may include systems, policy, procedural and culture change in accordance with the company’s core values. 

To book a free initial consultation contact us today on 08 9383 3293.



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