All workplaces in Australia are subject to Workplace Health and Safety (WHS ). These workplace safety regulations not only cover workers, but also customers, suppliers, contractors and anybody who may be visiting your workplace
Workplace safety laws:
identify hazards and control risks
protect people at work from illness or injury
protect the public visiting the workplace
have a process where workers are encouraged to participate in WHS discussions
provide rehabilitation for injured workers
All Australian business owners and employers must follow workplace safety procedures and policies, which are governed by State and Federal legislation.
The regulations also provide that workers be consulted about workplace safety issues and be encouraged to participate in WHS meetings.
A work team or work group is a group of workers who share similar work health and safety concerns and conditions. In larger organisations, the workers can elect a Health and Safety Representative (HSR). He or she represents that work group in work health and safety matters.
Under the WHS legislation, a work group must be established by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) when a worker, or work group, requests it. The work group is formed after consultation between the PCBU and the workers.
Workplace legislation and regulations used to vary from State to State to a far greater extent. Now the legislation amongst the States is all very similar, based on what is called the 'model' Work Health and Safety Act put out by the commonwealth.
The Commonwealth Government set up a Federal WHS authority called Safe Work Australia to administer and provide information.
So fortunately there is one set of WHS Legislation and Codes of Practice which an employer and employee has to deal with. What are the differences then, between the different State's work place safety bodies? In practical terms the major difference as far as an employer is concerned is that you will have to lodge different forms for each state. These are available as part of the resources offered with the WHS Kit.
Provided that an organisation follows the codes of practice in workplace health and safety the directors will not be found labile if there was a workplace incident or injury. In this kit we have provided the Work Safe codes of practice. A company anywhere in Australia should be able to adopt these with confidence, and even further develop and contextualise them for their business and operations.
Codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings under the WHS Act and Regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates.
The first major issue and difference with dealing different State WHS authorities is their documents and forms. They each have different forms such as incident reports etc. The second major issue is the different workers compensation insurance regulations. Employers must always have this insurance for anyone that they employ.
Historically, there used to be one insurance agent in NSW, called GIO. You would inform them of the amount of your payroll, the number of employees and your industry and they would calculate a premium. It still works like this, but the government introduced several players in the market to promote competition. So now there are more than one insurance agent where you can obtain workers compensation cover.
The third major issue is minor regulatory differences in each State. An example of this is that Victorian authority Worksafe requires and Victorian business to display the 'if you are injured' poster. According to the WorkSafe Vic website, this depressing poster must be displayed in every workplace otherwise they say you could be liable for a penalty of up to $35,835.
We cannot envisage an inspect walking in to a small business and levying such a fine, but it is an example of the wide ranging powers given to workplace regulators under their various state legislation. Needles to say, should a worker be injured or killed and the employer failed to make available the mandated WHS resources and information, then it could go very badly for them. Workplace safety laws in Australia are amongst the toughest in the world.
The authority that enforces NSW workplace health and safety laws is called Workcover. WorkCover’s main statutory functions are to administer certain Acts and regulations.
An Act is legislation made by Parliament. Acts often have regulation making powers, allowing regulations to be made under them.
The authority that enforces Victoria's WHS laws is called Worksafe vic. enforce Victoria's occupational health and safety laws. The authority:
In the ACT and Northern Territory the WHS regulators are called are Worksafe ACT and Worksafe NT. They operate under the Work health and Safety Act 2011 and Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
The other states all have similar legislative and regulatory framework. The same WHS principles are controlled by laws that differ from state to state.
In Queensland and the authority is called Workcover, as in NSW. In Western Australia, WHS was regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996. All the States are now amending their WHS Laws to be based more on the 'Model' WHS Legislation.
Codes of Practice provide practical guidance on how to meet the standards set out in the WHS Act and the WHS Regulations. Codes of Practice are admissible in proceedings as evidence of whether or not a duty under the WHS laws has been met. They can also be referred to by an inspector when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice.
PCBU means Person conducting a business or undertaking – a person conducting a business or undertaking alone or with others, whether or not for profit or gain. A PCBU can be a sole trader (for example a self-employed person), each partner within a partnership, company, unincorporated association or government department of public authority (including a municipal council). A PCBU with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and anything arising from the workplace does not put at risk the health or safety of any person.
Each Person conducting a business or undertaking must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with workers about matters that directly affect them. This duty extends to consulting with all kinds of workers not just the PCBU’s own employees, including any contractors and their workers, employees of labour hire companies, students on work experience, apprentices and trainees.
Organisations must exercise due diligence to ensure that their employees and officers comply with its health and safety duties. Due diligence includes taking reasonable steps to acquire and keep up to date knowledge on work health and safety matters and understand the nature and operations of the work and associated hazards and risks. An officer may be charged with an offence under the WHS Act whether or not the PCBU has been convicted or found guilty of an offence under the Act.