“The ONLY constant is CHANGE”. These are the opening words of a key note address I heard at a breakfast event to open Engineering Week back in the mid 1990’s. While the context of that statement was engineering as an ever-evolving field, especially with advances in technology, this statement is also true and very relevant today in terms of Australian and Western Australian Work Place Safety and Health legislation.

What was it like before 1964?

Yes, 1964, before most of us were born!

In the past 60 odd years several changes have occurred within the regulatory authorities in Western Australia. Pre 1964 the Mines Department was the regulatory authority for all Machinery Safety in WA on every workplace even non-mine site work places such as shops, factories etc. In 1964 the Department of Labour & Industry (DLI) was created and became responsible for all safety in WA workplaces especially Machinery Safety across all WA workplaces including mine sites, petroleum facilities, industrial sites, commercial premises, shops/factories etc .

Rio Tinto minesite in the 1960's

Rio Tinto minesite in the 1960’s. Source – AusIMM Bulletin

In 1984 the Occupational Health Safety & Welfare Act (OS&HA 1984) was created leading to a name change for the DLI to become the Department of Occupational Health Safety & Welfare. This act started the separation of the Mine Site legislation and regulatory authority away from the general workplaces such as industrial, commercial, and construction sites. In 1988 the 1984 OS&H Act was promulgated (note the 1984 OH&S Act is still in force in 2017) and the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1988 were also promulgated. This completely separated general workplace Occupational Safety legislation & regulatory authority from Mine sites legislation & regulatory authority.

Mt Isa in the 1960s

Mt Isa in the 1960s. Source – ABC News

In 1994 new Mines Safety and Inspection legislation came into force with the promulgation of the Mines Safety & Inspection Act 1994 and one year later the Mines Safety and Inspection Regulations 1995.  For non-mine site general workplaces the OS&H legislation changed. In late 1996 the Occupational Health Safety and Welfare Regulations 1988 were repealed and replaced with the Occupational Safety & Health regulations 1996. The 1984 OS&H Act as amended from time to time is still in force in 2017. For a brief period in the mid 2000’s the WA government removed the Resources Safety division from the jurisdiction of Department of Mines and placed it within the control of the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection. Then when the liberal government was elected, the Resources Safety division returned to the jurisdiction of the Department of Mines & Petroleum.

Harmonisation work begins – A Worthwhile Initiative!

In the early 1990’s the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) was created as the peak inter-governmental forum in Australia and one of this council’s efforts has been to initiate  and  foster the harmonisation of Occupational Safety & Health legislation across all of Australia’s state & territory jurisdictions. In 2008 as a result of COAG’s work the federal government created the statutory authority Safework Australia, replacing the previous National Occupational Safety & Health Commission. One of Safework Australia’s roles was to create model Workplace Health & Safety legislation that could be adopted by each state & territory jurisdiction. In 2012 the model legislation was adopted and enacted by the Commonwealth Government, ACT government, Northern Territory government, Queensland government, South Australian government, Tasmanian government and New South Wales government. Victoria and Western Australia are yet to adopt and enact the model Work Health and Safety legislation.

Australian State and Territory Flags

Australian State and Territory Flags

In early 2015 the WA Mines Department commenced working on the integration of multiple sets of legislation into one piece of legislation titled, Work Health and Safety (Resources and Major Hazards) Bill. This draft bill is an attempt to bring together legislation such as Dangerous Goods Safety Act 2004, Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources Act 1967, Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Resources (Occupational Safety and Health) Regulations 2010, Petroleum Pipelines Act 1969, Petroleum Pipelines (Occupational Safety and Health) Regulations 2010, Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act 1982, Petroleum (Submerged Lands) (Occupational Safety and Health) Regulations 2007, etc.

And What Now?

With the recent change of government in WA, the work of completing the Work Health and Safety (Resources and Major Hazards) Bill has been put on hold until the incoming government has completed the amalgamation of government departments as described on Public Sector Commission’s website.

2017 Machinery of Government changes  – The Premier has announced the first round of Machinery of Government (MOG) changes in the public sector, as outlined in the Government’s election commitments creating a number of new amalgamated departments. These wide-reaching changes will affect a range of public sector agencies. These structural changes are aimed at creating collaborative departments focused on whole-of-government objectives and delivering services in a more efficient and effective way.

Here is a link to the list of amalgamations.

The new Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety

This amalgamation has started with the Department of Mines and Petroleum and the Department of Commerce being combined to form the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety. At present the Occupational Safety and Health legislation (OS&H), Act (1984) and Regulations (1996) administered by Worksafe Western Australia plus the Mines Safety and Inspection (MS&I) Legislation Act (1994) and Regulations (1995) administered by the Department of Mines and Petroleum, both remain unchanged and still in force.

Since 2014 and Early 2016 Worksafe Western Australia and the Department of Mines and Petroleum had each been working to align their respective pieces of Legislation with Safework Australia’s National Model Work Health Safety Legislation. Worksafe’s Work Health & Safety Bill 2014 was released for public comment in 2015 with public submissions closing in January 2015. Around this time the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) started a similar reform of the Mines Safety & Inspection (MS&I) Legislation with the same aim of alignment with Safework Australia’s National Model Work Health Safety Legislation. However, the DMP’s reform process had not reached the point of completion of a draft bill when the election was called. The 2017 election put a hold on the reform process for both the OS&H and the MS&I legislation and now that Worksafe Western Australia and the Department of Mines and Petroleum are part of the one government entity, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, we believe there is most probably a strong case for the development of a single piece of legislation covering all Western Australian workplaces.

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety logo

So Where Are We Heading?

The future of WA Plant & Machinery Legislation

We currently have two separate reforms happening for different pieces of legislation which have a whole lot in common and lots of parts that are identical and/or almost identical. Worksafe Western Australia and the Department of Mines and Petroleum have employees that perform similar, identical and/or almost identical roles and tasks, so we would suggest that everyone should watch the Western Australia Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety space/scene for more reforms, changes, alignments and amalgamations!!

Even as this Blog was being written, our suggestion that there was a case for a single piece of legislation covering all Western Australian Workplaces was also recognised by the WA government, with the announcement on Wednesday the 12th of July 2017 that there will be a single work health and safety bill.

Here are the words from a media statement by Hon Bill Johnston MLA Minister for Mines and Petroleum; Commerce and Industrial Relations; Electoral Affairs; Asian Engagement on this WA government website:

The McGowan Government today gave the green light to develop a modernised Work Health and Safety Bill for Western Australia.
Based on the national Work Health and Safety Act, the Bill will improve consistency with the rest of Australia and provide the primary legislation for workplace safety and health across all Western Australian industries. 
The Bill will be supported by a number of industry specific regulations to suit the State’s unique conditions, enabling the resources sector to continue to use a risk-based approach.
Petroleum and major hazard facility industries will continue to operate under a safety case approach.
The State Government’s contemporary, single Act approach has been adopted following collaboration between the former departments of Commerce and Mines and Petroleum (now the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety).
Consistent with the Government’s commitment to reduce red tape, the Bill will replace three Acts:  Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984, Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994; and Petroleum and Geothermal Energy Safety Levies Act 2011.

The development of the Bill will involve extensive consultation with stakeholders and the community, prior to expected introduction to State Parliament in mid-2019.

Check our website over the next few weeks for Part 2 of this interesting dialog.


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