This blog identifies developments in WHS law to watch in 2020:

Industrial Manslaughter Offences

The number of Australian jurisdictions with industrial manslaughter offences in operation will expand this year. Currently, the ACT and Queensland are the only states with such legislation in operation.

The Victorian law, the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and other matters) Bill 2019 will come into force on 1 July 2020 (potentially earlier), while the Northern Territory legislature has passed similar amendments introducing industrial manslaughter offences to commence operation later in the year but with a date yet to be fixed. Industrial manslaughter laws were also introduced to Western Australia’s parliament in November 2019.

For advice about what organisations can do to achieve a “culture of compliance” in light of the new industrial manslaughter provisions, see our previous post.

Heavy Vehicle National Law

The National Transport Commission review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) is continuing into 2020. The Review plans to replace the existing HVNL with an entirely new law that improves safety, is less prescriptive and is fully harmonised. Consultation with government and industry is expected to conclude in May 2020, with the aim of submitting policy recommendations and draft legislation to the Transport and Infrastructure Council of COAG in November 2020.

Psychological Risks

It is expected that during the next two years the model WHS laws will be amended so that they address psychological health and safety similarly to physical health and safety.  This change was recommended by the Productivity Commission in October 2019 following its inquiry into mental health, and is similar to what was recommended in Marie Boland’s review of the model WHS laws.  These reports are discussed in our 2019 WHS Briefing, which is available here.

In accordance with the increased focus on psychological risks, we expect that safety regulators will continue to investigate incidents in which workers have taken their own lives (including where there has not been any bullying) and bullying prosecutions will continue to be brought.  Duty holders will also be expected to be aware of, and comply with, guidelines issued by regulators during 2019 regarding mental health risks.

WHS class action risk for directors

Another possible emerging space in WHS law could be class actions against companies and directors based on alleged contravention of WHS laws.  For further discussion regarding this potential growth area, see our previous post.

Special thanks to our Summer Clerk, Alice Strauss, for her assistance in preparing this article.

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