Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) in Australia: A Quick Guide

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), previously known as Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) is the foundation upon which Australian businesses provide a safe environment for their employees and others exposed to their workspace, such as vendors, customers, volunteers, and contractors, as well as the general public.

WHS laws ensure that every business entity uses adequate measures to minimize risks that could affect the health, safety or welfare of its workforce. Here are five questions and answers that will help you better understand the concept and applications of WHS regulations.

Are WHS and OH&S laws the same thing?

WHS laws are the newer, more consistent version of OH&S laws, which were in use until 2012. While every Australian state had different OH&S laws, WHS regulations are a set of ‘model laws’ applicable across the country, thus providing uniformity in workplace health and safety obligations.

At the time of writing this article, every jurisdiction except Western Australia and Victoria has implemented the model WHS laws after making relevant variations.

How does WHS compliance benefit a business?

As a business owner, it is crucial for you to understand the importance of creating a safe and healthy work environment, so that you can successfully implement WHS guidelines at your premises.

Thomas Johnson from Occupational Safety Solutions says that workplace accidents account for millions of dollars in losses for business annually. Creating a safe workspace is a legal requirement, which benefits your business in many ways.

  • It motivates employees, builds loyalty and enhances productivity.
  • It mitigates the risk of injury and sickness, minimizing sick leaves, medical expenses, and injury compensation.
  • It sets up your business for long-term success by ensuring legal compliance.

What are the core WHS obligations that a business must meet?

As a new business owner, you’re required to enforce health and safety guidelines at your workplace right when you begin operations.

Here is a list of the basic legal obligations that must be met by your business as per the model WHS laws, which are based on the WHS Act, the WHS Regulations and the model Codes of Practice.

  • Create a safe working environment and ensure a safe workplace layout and structure
  • Determine potential health and safety risks and take measures to minimize those risks
  • Ensure worker health and safety when operating machines and using materials
  • Implement practices and processes and provide facilities for safe handling and storage of goods, tools, materials, and substances
  • Purchase adequate insurance for your workers

How can employees help in the implementation of WHS practices?

Your employees have an obligation to ensure a safe working environment for themselves and their colleagues. They are required to follow health and safety guidelines, use safety equipment as instructed, and avoid placing themselves or others in situations that could cause injury.

How can I find out more about the WHS laws in my jurisdiction?

You can find state-specific information at the website of Safe Work Australia, a statutory body that developed—and constantly evaluates—the national WHS policies.

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