A beginner’s guide to Australian WHS legislation

While the rules and regulations surrounding WHS differ from state to state and territory to territory, Safe Work Australia has developed a Model WHS Act, which all WHS Acts being introduced across the country are based on  in some way, shape or form.

Its purpose is to “harmonise WHS law” in Australia, so that all employers and employees are protected, no matter where their workplace might be.

The first draft of the Model WHS Act was crafted by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council and was released for public comment in September 2009. Safe Work Australia added its two cents in December 2009, and the Model WHS Act was finalised in June 2011.

Just over six months later, in January 2012, the following states and territories adopted the Model WHS Act as part of their WHS laws. These include: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

WHS laws in these regions now include the Model WHS Act, Codes of Practice, and other compliance and enforcement policies. The states and territories that have not yet adopted the new WHS laws are still required to implement their own, according to the Australian government.

So, what do all of these rules and regulations entail?

Model WHS Act

Safe Work Australia’s “Guide to the Model WHS Act” states the purpose of the document is ultimately to keep employers and employees safe “by eliminating or minimising risks arising for work or workplaces”.

It also aims to encourage businesses across to country to take “a constructive role in improving WHS practices” and promote “information, education and training” on the subject.

Those covered by the Model WHS Act include anyone who carries out work for a business or “undertaking”. This means contractors, apprentices and even volunteers, to name just a few, are all protected by it. All visitors – such as customers or clients – are also included.

The Model WHS Act outlines all the responsibilities that “Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking” (referred to as PCBUs) have toward their workers.

PCBUs must ensure – when “reasonably practicable” – that all employees have a safe environment to work in that does not put their health at risk. This includes safe premises, systems and processes, machinery and equipment, which all need to be regularly maintained to ensure they remain up to standard.

They must also be provided with information, training and supervision where necessary.

PCBUs are instructed to work together – that is, consult, co-operate and co-ordinate their approach to WHS – so that all duties are carried out effectively and efficiently. It’s also important that employees are in the loop about any WHS matters that could impact them directly.

The Model WHS Act claims that all PCBUs are required to keep an up-to-date knowledge of WHS laws, understand the risks inherent in their workplace and make sure the appropriate systems and processes are in place to manage them correctly.

In addition to this, they are expected to notify the relevant persons if and when an injury, accident or illness does occur in the workplace.

– What are my duties?

As an employee, you are also responsible for your own and other’s safety in the workplace. The Model WHS Act states that you must “comply … with any reasonable instruction given by the PCBU to allow the PCBU to comply with WHS laws” and “co-operate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the PCBU” relating to WHS in the workplace.

Codes of Practice

While the Model WHS Act outlines what is expected of employers and employees in a general sense,  Codes of Practice offer businesses a practical guide to help them obey these rules and regulations.

It’s not mandatory to comply with Codes of Practice, provided a new-and-improved alternative to managing a hazardous situation is used instead.

These documents can be quite general – such as “Managing the Risks of Falls at Workplaces” and “First Aid in the Workplace” – as well as designed for specific industries and professions – such as “Welding Processes” and “Spray Painting and Powder Coating”.

The above examples of Codes of Practice are taken from the Safe Work Australia website, which features a number of Model Codes of Practice that are worth looking at. Again, the organisation is looking to “harmonise WHS law” in the area of Codes of Practice, so that employees all over the country may work in safe and healthy environments.

For a good example of the type of information Codes of Practice contain, consider the Model Code of Practice for Construction Work, which can be found here. This document features tips on creating a risk management strategy, to help eliminate or minimise the potential for employees to get ill or injured while at work.

It begins with a useful guide on identifying hazards or objects that could harm an employer or employee. This includes ladders, falling objects, asbestos, any tasks that are considered dangerous – and more. The Code of Practice then discusses how to assess and control these risks.

Want to know more?

If you would like to increase your knowledge of WHS law in Australia, check out the wide range of WHS training courses that AlertForce has to offer. Whether you want to improve your knowledge and skills in specific – such as asbestos removal – or more general areas, such as office safety, we have the course for you.

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