Faculty of Regional and Professional Studies
School of Business (RPS) / Centre for Innovative Practice
Harmonisation of state-based occupational health and safety (OHS) regimes is a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) initiative designed to ‘cut red tape’ for Australian firms. However Western Australia’s, South Australia’s and Victoria’s lack of harmonisation makes it problematic for firms that conduct business in multiple jurisdictions. In this paper we investigate what impacts harmonisation has on firms generally and specifically smaller, multi-jurisdictional firms. First, we look at the requirements of the model WHS Act and what it said about managerial responsibilities for OHS. We focus on the due diligence clause which places personal liability on company directors or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCUBs) for breaches in their duty. As a new duty, this also increases complexity for small, multi-jurisdictional firms depending on the jurisdiction in which they operate and the legislation to which they need to attend. We then question how these small firms may deal with this problem and draw on findings of a study where the impact of the harmonisation on safety professionals and training design and delivery was explored. Although the focus was not specifically on small firms, the data suggests small firms do not use dedicated safety professionals and instead rely on industry associations to understand their OHS obligations. Indeed, some small firms attempt to avoid compliance entirely, until ordered by regulators to comply. This is a risky strategy as the costs of being found guilty of a breach or non-compliance are significant. Moreover, small, multi-jurisdictional firms need to be conversant with at least two sets of OHS legislation with differing requirements and levels of penalties. The paper contributes to the debate on small firm regulation and shows that despite attempts to ease the regulatory burden in smaller firms that operate across state borders, complexity remains.