Mick Gentleman is right to be disappointed Coalition industrial relations ministers voted to reject the creation of an industrial manslaughter offence on Thursday.
That said, he should not lose sight of the fact the meeting to discuss the Boland review of model work health and safety laws delivered notable benefits for Australian workers in important areas.
These include mental health in the workplace, the rights and powers of workplace health and safety representatives, on sexual harassment and gendered violence, and the right of union officials to enter workplaces without a permit at the request of health and safety representatives.
In total 33 of the 34 recommendations made by Marie Boland in her 2018 report have been accepted with little or no modification. The only exception was the call for the industrial manslaughter offence.
That was a bridge too far for federal Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash and her LNP state counterparts. The Labor ministers from the Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia, the ACT and Victoria were not able to reach the two-thirds majority required.
This, as Mr Gentleman, has said is disappointing given the strong position the ACT government has taken on workplace deaths.
Ms Boland, writing in support of her recommendation, had said: "Workplace injuries and deaths ruin lives and shatter families ... [That is why] I have made a series of recommendations dealing with penalty levels, sentencing guidelines, prohibiting access to insurance for the payment of fines and the introduction of a new industrial manslaughter offence."
While, as Mr Gentleman noted, the ACT will incorporate industrial manslaughter in its own health and safety legislation, this runs against the intent of the model WHS law review. It was supposed to bring about cross-jurisdictional uniformity, not to further entrench significant differences.
Arguably the most significant development at Thursday's meeting was the general acceptance of Ms Boland's recommendation that the model WHS regulations be amended to identify the psychosocial risks associated with psychological injury and the appropriate control measures to manage those risks.
Ms Boland said while there had been overwhelming acceptance of the need for an express reference to psychological health in the model WHS act, there were concerns the model codes and regulations did not go far enough. This meant additional regulations on how to identify risks were necessary.
The net effect will be to place a positive obligation on employers to minimise mental health hazards in the working environment, placing them on a par with physical dangers.
The in-principle adoption of these measures is timely given the release of the Australia Institute's Investing In Better Mental Health in Australian Workplaces report this month. This found workplace-associated mental illness was costing between $15.8 billion and $17.4 billion a year and that unsafe workplaces were a major cause of preventable mental health.
According to ACTU assistant secretary Liam O'Brien up to 45 per cent of the mental health problems experienced by working people are attributable to their workplace conditions.
The cost is not just economic. The price in terms of human anxiety, depression and despair - all of which can lead to death - caused by workplace stress is unacceptably high.
While the battle for uniform industrial manslaughter laws remains to be won millions of Australians will benefit from the recognition accorded to employers' responsibility for workers' mental health and the other reforms agreed upon in Canberra this week.
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