The dispute resolution provisions are located in Part 5, Division 7A of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act). These provisions facilitate timely resolution of work health and safety (WHS) disputes and provide certainty for parties where a dispute remains unresolved.
The dispute resolution process does not replace other issue resolution procedures under the WHS Act, but rather provides a subsequent avenue for disputes where they remain unresolved.
This means that parties to a WHS dispute must continue to make reasonable efforts to resolve the matter themselves, or with the assistance of an inspector, prior to resolution being sought under Part 5, Division 7A. This ensures that the intention of the WHS Act, to encourage parties to resolve issues at the workplace without need for escalation to either the regulator or an external tribunal, is achieved.
For more information on the general issue resolution process, view the issue resolution (PDF, 0.54 MB) fact sheet.
Who can be involved in dispute resolution under Part 5, Division 7A?
Parties in relation to a dispute, for the purposes of Part 5, Division 7A of the WHS Act, are limited to:
- the person conducting a business or undertaking involved with the dispute
- a worker affected by the WHS issue
- a health and safety representative affected by the WHS issue and
- a relevant union (i.e. a union who has members or is eligible to represent workers involved with the WHS issue).
When do the dispute resolution provisions apply?
The dispute resolution provisions apply if any of the following WHS issues remain unresolved at least 24 hours after the regulator has been asked to appoint an inspector to assist in resolving the matter under either section 71(6), 82 or 89 of the WHS Act:
- access to information by health and safety representatives under section 70(1)(c)
- a request by a health and safety representative for an assistant to have access to a workplace under section 70(1)(g)
- a matter about work health and safety that is subject to the issue resolution process under Part 5, Division 5 and
- cessation of work under Part 5, Division 6.
This means that, unless a party to the issue has requested the assistance of an inspector, the dispute resolution provisions under Part 5, Division 7A of the WHS Act do not apply.
What happens if the dispute resolution provisions under Part 5, Division 7A do apply?
Where a WHS issue remains unresolved at least 24 hours after the regulator has been asked to appoint an inspector to assist with resolving a dispute, a party to the issue may give the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission (QIRC) notice of the dispute.
Notice of the dispute must be in writing and include information on:
- the names of the parties involved in the dispute;
- the workplace where the dispute exists;
- the WHS matter being disputed; and
- whether a decision made by an inspector to exercise, or not exercise, their compliance powers under Part 10 of the WHS Act (i.e. to issue an improvement or prohibition notice to assist in resolving a dispute) is subject to review under Part 12 of the WHS Act.
A copy of the notice form can be found at: www.qirc.qld.gov.au (Form 73A)
What happens if an inspector does not attend the workplace within 24 hours of a request being made to assist with resolving a matter?
If an inspector does not attend a workplace within 24 hours of being requested to assist in resolving a WHS issue, any of the parties are entitled to refer the dispute to the QIRC for consideration and determination.
It is Workplace Health and Safety Queensland's experience that, depending on geographical location, inspectors are generally able to attend a site within one hour of a request to assist being received and that issues are resolved in most cases within hours of the parties involving an inspector.
Resolving a work health and safety dispute
In dealing with a dispute about a WHS issue, the QIRC may:
- consider the matter by means of mediation, conciliation or arbitration and, if dealt with by arbitration, make any order it considers appropriate for the prompt settlement of the dispute;
- review a decision made by an inspector to use their compliance powers to assist in resolving the issue, i.e. if an inspector issues an improvement notice to assist with resolving a dispute, the QIRC can review the inspector's decision and confirm, vary or set aside the inspectors decision; and
- decide not to deal with a dispute, and order costs, if they consider the matter to be frivolous, vexatious, misconceived or lacking substance.
For more information regarding the dispute resolution process visit the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission website at www.qirc.qld.gov.au/ or call 1300 592 987.