Regulating for safe work in a digital age: building on the adaptive power of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws in Australia
The current health pandemic brought about by COVID-19 has spurred the growth of alternative, digitised forms of contract work in the growing gig economy. This growth has been particularly acute in low-paid contingent work such as ride-hailing and food delivery services (18). Due to the nature of their work, these workers are especially vulnerable to health risks and lack adequate access to employment entitlements such as sick leave. Consequently, COVID-19 has created a sense of urgency and opportunity for governments and policy makers to re-evaluate Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws to ensure that all workers, regardless of their legal classification, are able to carry out work safely. This brief explores whether the current hybrid form of WHS regulation in Australia is well equipped to address these challenges. It builds on current literature that considers the challenges in managing WHS matters in this new era of digital work by examining the impact of ''command and control'' and ''light touch'' forms of regulation (14). We propose that workers in modern economies can be afforded WHS protections despite their legal classification due to the incredibly adaptive, hybrid framework of Australian WHS laws. Specifically, we advocate for a strategic enforcement approach to regulating safe work that draws on both ''command and control'' and ''light touch'' forms of regulation to ensure safe work practices in emerging areas of the economy.