Every Australian has the right to a safe and healthy workplace
Safety in the workplace is not just a right, it's the law. 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.
Your employer has obligations
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's 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
Work Health and Safety (WHS) 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
Hazardous chemicals including lead
Major hazard facilities
Review of decisions, exemptions, and prescribed serious illnesses
These regulations are enforceable by law.
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.
Checklists and processes
Having a clear set of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) policies and procedures not only provides direction on what is expected in the workplace, but also how these expectations will be achieved to keep a workplace safe.
An Occupational Health and Safety policy is a statement that communicates an organisation’s commitment to OHS.
A procedure is a tool explaining the step-by-step process of how a task can be done safely. Developing procedures must be a consultative process between employers and employees. OHS documentation should always be kept up to date and easily accessible. The number and type of procedures required for a workplace will differ based on the type of tasks undertaken and the level of risk. Common OHS procedures include:
- Resolving Work Health and Safety (WHS) issues
- Consulting with workers on WHS
- Monitoring workers’ health and workplace conditions
- Providing information and training
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Material Safety Data Sheets
A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that provides information about hazardous substances and dangerous goods. Additionally, it will detail the hazards associated with those substances that may affect workplace health and safety. An MSDS may also be referred to as a Safety Data Sheet (SDS).
Generally, an MSDS contains information about:
- The manufacturer or importing supplier
- The identity of the chemical
- Health and physicochemical hazards
- Safe handling and storage procedures
- Emergency procedures
- Disposal considerations
Workplace safety checklists
It is every employer’s responsibility to create and maintain a safe workplace. There are many tools, checklists and guides available to help businesses eliminate risks and hazards at work. The first step to complying with occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, and achieving a workplace free from risks and hazards is as simple as completing a checklist.
Some good examples are:
- The checklist on the Safe Work Australia website
- WorkSafe ACT’s checklists specific to different industries and workplace types
Codes of practice
A code of practice is a practical guide to achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and the WHS Regulations.
These codes give guidance on:
- How to achieve the standards required under the Act
- Effective ways to identify and manage risks
The Model Codes of Practice, developed by Safe Work Australia, form the basis of codes of practice in each state and territory, as well as the Commonwealth. Codes of practice should be used by businesses in conjunction with the WHS Act and the associated WHS Regulations.
Speak to us today
AT Slater and Gordon we aim to help you:
through the workers compensation process
Understand your rights and entitlements
Assist you with disputes which may arise with the workcover insurer
Maximise your compensation
Provide you with clear and accurate advice about your prospects of success
Meeting with a lawyer shouldn't be an overwhelming experience, to help you you can read more about what to expect when meeting your lawyer for the first time.
You should contact us if:
You have suffered an injury at work
You have suffered a flare-up of an existing injury or disease whilst at work
You have suffered a psychological injury at work
You want to know more about your potential to obtain lump sum compensation
Your employer is pressuring you to return to work
The insurer won't pay for a particular expense
You've never received advice about a workplace injury
You want to know where you stand within the law
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: