Last month, the NSW parliament passed the WHS Amendment Bill 2023. The bill covers a number of updates in relation to increased maximum penalties, a new silica register and a new asbestos notice regime.
The changes primarily impact PCBUs (Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking), as PCBUs are responsible for providing and maintaining a working environment for their workers that is safe and without risks to health.
If you are a PCBU, it is integral that you are across these changes, and incorporate the new rules in your safety management plans and safe work method statements. We have summarised below the key updates relevant to workers and businesses in the solar industry.
The new bill outlines a number of new maximum penalties for WHS offences by PCBUs, many of which have more than doubled. These increased penalties are effective from 1st of July 2024. A summary of these changes are below.
Gross Negligence or reckless conduct (category 1 offence):
- Maximum jail term for individuals as a PCBU increased from 5 years to 10 years.
- Maximum penalty units for individuals as a PCBU increased from 6,925 units ($798,383.25) to 18,805 units ($2,168,028.45).
- Maximum penalty units for individuals increased from 3,465 units ($399,479.85) to 9,038 penalty units units ($1,041,991.02).
Failure to comply with health and safety duty (category 2 offence):
- Maximum penalty units for individuals as a PCBU increased from 3,465 units ($399,479.85) to 3,626 units ($418,041.54).
- Maximum penalty units for individuals increased from 1,730 units ($199,451.70) to 1,813 units ($209,020.77).
Failure to comply with health and safety duty (category 3 offence):
- Maximum penalty units for individuals as a PCBU increased from 1,155 units ($133,159.95) to 1,214 units ($139,962.06).
- Maximum penalty units for individuals increased from 575 units ($66,291.75) to 607 units ($69,981.03).
What does this mean for you?
If you are a PCBU, you must be aware of the legal duties you have to your workers. At a minimum, PCBUs must:
- Manage risks to health and safety by eliminating or minimising risks so far as reasonably practicable.
- Provide relevant information, training, instruction and supervision to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety arising from high-risk construction work.
- Prepare, keep, comply with and review a safe work method statement (SWMS) for high risk construction activities.
In solar installation and maintenance, the most common risks to safety are falls from heights and working with electricity. Failure to implement appropriate control measures, such as edge protection when working from heights, or isolating the system when working with electricity can result in serious injury or death, and expose you to the penalties listed above.
Asbestos Notice Regime
Under the new bill, SafeWork NSW will have the power to issue prohibited asbestos notices if they have reasonable belief that asbestos is present in the workplace.
The notices will include information on the location, type and condition of the asbestos, and contain directions on the specific measures PCBUs and workers must follow to manage and remove the asbestos.
What does this mean for you?
The relevant person who the notice is issued to must comply with the directions outlined in the asbestos notice within the timeframe stated. Failure to do so can result in a penalty of up to 1,206 penalty units for individuals, or 6,028 units for a body corporate.
Silica is a harmful type of dust found in various materials such as tiles, concrete and stone, that is released into the air when the material is worked on. In solar installations, exposure to silica is most common when grinding roof tiles to fit mounting brackets.
The new bill has introduced a Silica Worker Register which will be established by SafeWork NSW to track the health impacts of Silica Exposure. The register will not be available to the general public. PCBUs will be required to give information to SafeWork NSW to include in the silica register. If you are a PCBU, it’s important to keep records of potential exposure of workers to silica.
Need a refresher on WHS? Check out our professional short course on Work Health and Safety in Solar, available online through our website.