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Work health and safety: Laws and regulations

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In recent years, most of Australia’s states and territories, as well as the Commonwealth, have passed legislation aimed at harmonising occupational health and safety laws across the country.

These laws are put in place to provide uniform levels of protection to all Australian workers and make it easier for businesses and employees to comply with their requirements across different jurisdictions.

Model Work Health and Safety Act

A national review of occupational health and safety started in 2008 with the aim of creating a model that delivered consistency across all Australian jurisdictions. This culminated in the Model Work Health and Safety Act, which was released for public comment in 2009, endorsed by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council in 2009, and finalised in 2011.

The Model Work Health and Safety Act now forms the basis of work health and safety (WHS) Acts being legislated across Australia. The Commonwealth, together with most states and territories, passed the legislation in Parliament in 2012/13. Victoria and Western Australia have yet to pass the legislation and are considering amendments. You can see the progress of the Model Work Health and Safety Act in your jurisdiction at SafeWork Australia.

Work health and safety regulations

WHS legislation includes a Model Work Health and Safety Act, Model Work Health Safety Regulations, Codes of Practice and a National Compliance and Enforcement policy.

Some workplaces represent a higher risk to hazards than others. The Model Work Health Safety Regulations, last revised in 2014, explain the duties for identifying and controlling the risks associated with these workplace hazards.

Each state and territory, as well as the Commonwealth, is responsible for adopting, regulating and enforcing WHS regulations.

At a high level, WHS regulations cover:

  • Representation and participation
  • Managing risks to health and safety and general workplace management
  •  Hazardous work involving noise, hazardous manual tasks, confined spaces, falls, demolition work, electrical safety and energised electrical work, diving work and licensing of high-risk work and accreditation of assessors of competency
  • Plant and structures
  • Construction work
  • Hazardous chemicals including lead
  • Asbestos
  • Major hazard facilities
  • Mines
  • Review of decisions, exemptions, and prescribed serious illnesses

WHS regulations are enforceable by law.

Codes of Practice are also in place to provide advice on how to meet standards of occupational health and safety.

Need more information? Find out more about the WHS Acts, Regulations and Codes of Practice in your state or territory: