Workers' compensation and workplace safety

The Department has collaborated with Comcare and Australian Public Service departments and agencies to improve early intervention, improved rehabilitation and a sustainable return to work for APS employees after an injury or illness.

A range of non-legislative reforms to workers’ compensation arrangements has led to an improvement in the overall premium rate for Commonwealth premium-paying agencies; the rate fell from a high of 1.93 per cent of payroll in 2014–15 to 1.23 per cent in 2017–18. This significant improvement is a result of a range of actions taken by Comcare and Australian Public Service agencies. A Deputy Secretary Working Group has shared knowledge and encouraged best-practice approaches to injury prevention, early intervention and successful rehabilitation and return to work.

Workplace safety policy

In consultation with Comcare, the state and territory work health and safety jurisdictions, and employee and employer representatives, the Department will continue to contribute to developing and implementing the national approach to work health and safety regulation. It will continue to represent the government at Safe Work Australia, taking an active role in that organisation’s
mid-term review of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy and the 2018 review of the work health and safety model laws.

The Department provided policy and legal advice to support amendments to the model work health and safety Regulations; this included identifying areas that created an unnecessary regulatory burden, where regulation has not achieved the intended policy objective, or where compliance with the model WHS laws has increased costs for business without proportionate health and safety benefits. The Department also supported amendments to the model WHS Regulations on managing the risks associated with lead in the workplace, specifically reducing blood lead levels and the workplace exposure standard for lead.

The Department co-chairs an Asbestos Interdepartmental Committee with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to enable effective policy and regulatory coordination across Commonwealth agencies. This work has improved the management of asbestos issues throughout the supply chain, especially in relation to the importation of products containing asbestos.

The Department has also established a cross-jurisdiction Interdepartmental committee to pursue national initiatives to improve quad bike safety both for workplace and for private use. The committee is chaired by the Department, and its membership includes representatives from a range of Commonwealth agencies and from nominated work health and safety regulators.

Additionally, the Department is advising the Australian Government on a proposed review of the impact of workplace safety laws in the building and construction industry.

The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner

The Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner administers the building and construction Work Health and Safety Accreditation Scheme, which is implemented under the Building Act. Over prescribed financial thresholds, all head contractors of building work funded by the Commonwealth or a Commonwealth authority must be accredited under the scheme.

In 2016–17, the Office of the Federal Safety Commissioner accredited 37 new construction companies and managed the ongoing accreditation of over 420 companies. Since the office’s inception in 2005 over 1,500 Commonwealth-funded construction projects worth more than $87 billion have used WHS systems and practices accredited under the scheme.

In 2016–17, the office began developing an online agency reporting database that will record all forthcoming Commonwealth-funded building projects covered by the scheme. Providing advanced notice of scheme projects will help in increasing the number of accredited companies eligible to tender for these projects, thus increasing competition and improving safety in the building industry.

To support the new National Construction Code compliance function, the Federal Safety Commissioner imposed on all accredited companies a condition of accreditation that means they can lose accreditation if they do not comply with the National Construction Code performance requirements for building materials. Further, the Commissioner issued new model clauses for use in tenders and funding agreements for building work covered by the scheme, requiring contractor compliance with National Construction Code performance requirements.