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Every Australian worker has the right to a safe and healthy workplace. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the law.
What is workplace health and safety?
Workplace health and safety (WHS) is all about protecting the safety, health and welfare of people engaged in employment. Simply put, workers have a basic right to perform their duties in a safe environment.
Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, which applies in most states and territories, ‘health’ relates to both the physical and psychological wellbeing of workers. For example, an injury incurred while using a machine, or a psychological illness brought on by harassment in the workplace, could both be considered in the context of workplace health and safety laws.
Employers must provide a safe and healthy workplace for all workers. There is a wide range of health and safety obligations and these may differ across states and territories. It’s not as simple as keeping dangerous chemicals labelled correctly or ensuring that scaffolding around a building site meets regulations, it is also the employer’s responsibility for example to provide adequate training and instruction and ensure employees have the relevant qualifications to perform their required tasks.
At a high level, an employer’s duty of care includes providing:
- A physical and psychosocial work environment without risks to health and safety.
- Safe systems of work.
- Information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety.
What is the law?
In recent years, Australian states and territories, with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia, have implemented the same WHS laws and are based on the Model Work Health and Safety Act. This has helped harmonise the way health and safety is regulated and enforced across the country.
In Victoria, WHS is governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. In Western Australia, it is the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984.
These Acts are the cornerstones of each state and territory’s WHS laws, regulations and codes of practice.
Creating a safe work environment
Both employers and workers share a role in creating a safe workplace. While employers have a legal obligation to create and maintain a safe workplace, employees can add value by speaking up, identifying potential hazards and being motivated to contribute to their employer’s WHS goals.
Consultation between employers and workers is at the heart of building strong WHS attitudes.
Use the links below under the ‘Need more information?’ to access information and tools relevant to your location.
Latest news and views on workplace health and safety
Need more information?
Visit your state or territory’s regulator for detailed information on WHS, roles and responsibilities, and tools to help identify and mitigate safety risks: