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WHS legislation is changing
Our approach to safety is not just about safety on the fireground or during an incident or emergency. It extends to safety at the fire station, in the office, and during training - safety is fundamental to all these activities.
From 1 January 2012 new health and safety laws, to be enacted as the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act, will be introduced in every Australian state and territory. This legislation will be consistent across the country. New regulations and codes of practice will also come into effect to harmonise health and safety laws across Australia.
So what does this mean for CFA members?
From 1 January 2012 CFA will have the same legal duty of care responsibilities for volunteers as for employees, as do volunteers have the same duty of care responsibilities as currently arise for employees; but this should not concern or affect volunteers if they follow heath and safety practices, procedures and training.
CFA members simply need to continue to act within the scope of their role, instructions and training, and adhere to safe work practices while on the job. CFA has an obligation to provide its volunteers with the knowledge and skills they need to meet their obligations - to act as may be reasonably expected of someone in their position and in the circumstances. The new legislation reminds all of this - we all have obligations to ensure a safe working environment and we all have a duty of care to ourselves, our colleagues and the broader public while undertaking CFA work.
As part of a process of national feedback on the new laws, CFA and Volunteer Fire Brigades Victoria have worked closely together and each has made submissions to Safe Work Australia regarding the proposed model Work Health and Safety Regulations and Codes of Practice draft documents.
The model regulations have been finalised and will be available shortly. Additional Codes of Practice will be progressively released by Safe Work Australia for comment as part of the public consultative process. These will be reviewed and, where appropriate, feedback provided to ensure the views of emergency services are considered.
We asked KPMG to undertake an impact assessment of the WHS legislation in practical terms for CFA. There is no doubt we will need to adjust some of our processes as a result of the regulations. We will keep you informed through updates and briefings across the organisation.
While further assessment of this legislation is required, some of the outcomes are likely to include additional members being offered first aid training, enhancements of certain facilities in identified fire stations and volunteers having the ability to elect health and safety representatives in brigades and groups.
Finally, I must stress that these legislative changes and regulations have absolutely no relationship with, or effect on, matters concerning compensation to CFA members that may arise out of occupational health and safety incidents.
We should consider the WHS legislation as a positive step to improving our health and safety. This is an opportunity for us to further build our Safety First culture.