Making South Australian Workplaces Safer


In the last two years, 30 South Australians have lost their lives at work. On average 14,000 South Australians lodge claims for workplace injuries per year, and that’s just the number of people who lodge a claim, let alone the number who are injured and don’t claim for compensation. 

In the last two years, SafeWork SA have achieved just one single prosecution aimed at proactively addressing the risk of injury. Just one.


In 2022 the state government engaged workplace health and safety expert John Merritt to conduct a review into the SafeWork SA and the broader WHS system. 

SA Unions led the pro-safety reform efforts, making comprehensive submissions to the review, and organising health and safety representatives to meet with Merritt and share their experiences. 

  • View SA Unions Submissions HERE 
  • View the SA Unions Submissions recommendations HERE

The 2022 Review of SafeWork SA (read the review here) by John Merritt made clear that South Australia’s Workplace Health and Safety regulator and WHS system had deteriorated and required reform in order to save people’s lives and protect workers from injury. A key reform recommended by Merritt was the creation of a pathway for the civil resolution of WHS disputes, which the government proposes to do by allowing timely access to the support & assistance of the South Australian Employment Tribunal. 

We applaud the Malinauskas government for standing with workers and taking action to implement this recommendation, by beginning consultation on the amendments to our work health and safety laws. 

This recommendation will foster a culture of accountability. Involving more people in the task of monitoring and enforcing health and safety standards, without altering any duties already owed under the WHS Act by employers, workers, and their representatives.  



The results of this year’s annual Work Shouldn’t Hurt Survey by the ACTU are truly worrying. 550 South Australians responded, indicating that mental health hazards are at epidemic levels in South Australian workplaces, and that the response of SafeWork SA has not improved since John Merritt completed his independent review in 2022. 

  • 66% of workers admitted to feeling always or regularly stressed at work. 
  • 74% of people reported experiencing bullying in the workplace showing that this is a pervasive issue. 
  • 59% of respondents reported Discrimination and harassment based on sex race gender or disability. 
  • 58% of respondents experienced violence or threats at work. 
  • 35% of respondents reported experiencing gendered violence including sexual harassment or sexual assault at work. 
  • 56% are pressured by management to not raise health and safety issues. 
  • 41% of South Australian responders stated that they were “dissatisfied” with their workplace’s approach to their health and safety. 
  • 67% of Health and Safety Representatives did not hear back from an inspector after reporting safety concerns. 

These results show a workforce experiencing extreme levels of stress and burnout. Employers aren't taking it seriously enough and SafeWork SA alone is not currently equipped to respond. 


As the Government’s consultation paper on civil dispute resolution makes clear;

“Over the past 10 years SafeWork SA has been the subject of numerous reviews and inquiries… these reviews have made clear that the regulator cannot do the essential work of keeping South Australians safe on its own. In the last financial year there were nearly 140,000 businesses in South Australia employing nearly 840,000 workers. No regulator, no matter how well resourced, can be in every workplace at once.” 

The united South Australian union movement strongly support the South Australian government's proposal to create a civil dispute resolution pathway for breaches of workplace health and safety duties.  

This reform will enable workers to seek the assistance of the South Australian Employment Tribunal to proactively resolve safety concerns before catastrophic incidents occur; and it will help workers and their employers to reach agreement about the best way to keep workplaces safe.  

This will create a better workplace safety system. One where workers and their employers are supported to create safer workplaces together through the early resolution of disputes, freeing up the resources for SafeWork SA to focus on being the ‘tough cop on the beat’ to address the worst cases of non-compliance and workplace tragedies. 

This dual system of dispute resolution, compliance and enforcement operates extremely well in other areas of industrial law, and other jurisdictions. 



Together with SA Unions, the South Australian Council of Social Services, Arts Industry Council of SA, Conservation SA and the SA Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations Network, as the lead civil society peak bodies, were early in support of the implementation of John Merritt’s civil dispute resolution recommendations, addressing that support to a round table with government ministers in June 2023. 

Support for the government’s proposed civil dispute resolution proposal has also come from other civil society organisations, academics, legal experts and the representatives of victims’ families, including Voice of Industrial Death, The Dust Diseases Alliance of SA, The Asbestos Victims Association and The McKell Institute. 



In May 2023, John Merritt appeared before the South Australian Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation, where he said this about civil dispute resolution: 

“You need to be creating the environment where breaches of the act, where no-one has been hurt, are still held to account… What I found in my engagement was this fantastic asset that South Australia has with its representative organisations: employers, workers, HSRs and safety professionals. My focus was on how can I help mobilise all of that better to make South Australia the safest work environment in the country.” 

That is the point of the civil dispute resolution reform proposed by the government; to mobilise all the stakeholders in workplace health and safety, to resolve safety issues before someone is hurt.