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Workplace Safety Law's New Risks, Costs

Media statement Monday, October 21st, 2002

'Stress' and 'fatigue' new hazards, costs for workplace managers, plus useful changes to HS&E Bill.

The Health and Safety in Employment Amendment tabled in Parliament today introduces areas of uncertainty which will add large new business compliance costs, the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern) says.

The association said instead of clearing up how stress and fatigue are to be defined as workplace hazards, the concepts bring new uncertainties to investment and employment.

But some useful changes have been made by the Select Committee with regard to how volunteers are to be treated under the law, and in some other areas, said Paul Jarvie, EMA's Manager of Workplace Safety.

"No one knows how to measure stress or fatigue, or when their causes are work related or brought from home," Mr Jarvie said.

"But from now on employers will be expected take responsibility for them, and pay more when they occur.

"Government's efforts to make workplaces even safer - people are safer at work than at home or at recreational activities - won't be helped much by the changes made at the Select Committee.

"Apart from extensive court work to decide on new legal definitions required, the HS&E fines have been dramatically and unnecessarily increased.

"The Select Committee has added more grey to the original Bill in places. For example it originally said employers would be expected to know the causes of stress or fatigue whereas the latest version states they should 'know or ought reasonably to know about' the stress or fatigue in question.

"All this does is add more layers of uncertainty to an already precarious position.

"Across the Tasman, 'stress' and 'fatigue' are a boom industry for claimants under the provisions of Australia's workplace accident insurance cover; we expect the same grievance industry to begin flourishing here.

"Since Government is determined to make stress and fatigue workplace hazards, we recommend that OSH be charged with extending their work to producing high powered operational guidelines for workplaces to adopt.

"For ourselves, EMA will be producing a comprehensive employers guide to their responsibilities under the new law."

ENDS

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