The regulatory environment

The introduction of a new Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act in each State and Territory across Australia will ensure that there is a high level of consistency in Work Health and Safety legislation throughout Australia.

The harmonisation of Work Health and Safety laws is part of the Council of Australian Governments’ National Reform Agenda aiming to reduce regulatory burdens and create a seamless national economy. Although it is a Nationally harmonised law, it is still regulated through the legislation in each state.

This page contains information and links on the following topics.

  • Background – why WHS?
  • A nationally uniform WHS legislative Framework
  • Model WHS Act
  • Model WHS Regulations and Codes of Practice
  • National Compliance and Enforcement Policy

Background – why WHS?

(WorkCover NSW, 2011, NSW Work Health and Safety Legislation, available from WorkCover NSW)

Previously in Australia, each jurisdiction (State, Territory and the Commonwealth) was responsible for making and enforcing their own work health and safety laws. This meant that there were nine separate State/Territory laws governing Work Health and Safety. This caused frustration and difficulties for the many Australian and international companies that work across our State borders. Contract staff to work in other jurisdictions or manufacturing and supplying plant and equipment to be used at workplaces in various states.

The regulatory burden and the cost to business and the wider economy in managing and complying with all these differences was estimated at $16B per year. It is for these reasons that the Federal Government in 2008 set harmonisation of OHS laws and Industrial Relations laws as a key priority.

Fast fact: What is Harmonisation? Harmonisation was introduced to nationally uniform the OHS legislative framework (consisting of the model WHS Act, model WHS legislations and model codes of practice).

For more background information on work health and safety harmonisation, please visit the Safe Work Australia website

A Nationally Uniform WHS Legislative Framework

(WorkCover NSW, 2011, NSW Work Health and Safety Legislation, available from WorkCover NSW)

The Nationally uniform legislative framework consists of:

  • a Model WHS Act and Regulation which provide the structure and detail of the legislation to be enacted in each State and Territory and provides the platform for the development of harmonised legislation
  • a WHS Act in each State and Territory which will simply mirror the Model Act and include jurisdictional concepts such as the name of the regulator the relevant court etc
  • a WHS Regulation in each State and Territory which again will simply mirror the Model Regulation
  • a range of Model Codes of Practice which will provide guidance on particular issues
  • a nationally consistent Compliance and Enforcement Policy ensuring the same approach across jurisdictions on how advice will be given and how the laws are to be enforced.

For more information on the Model WHS Legislation, please visit the Safe Work Australia website

Model WHS Act

Detailed information on the Model Work Health and Safety Act is outlined on the Safe Work Australia website. Click on the heading to find out more on the Model WHS Act, a guide to the Model WHS Act, translation principles and more.

Model WHS Regulations and Codes of Practice

The model Codes of Practice are a practical guide to achieving the standards of health and safety required under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and model WHS Regulations. Codes of Practice provide duty holders with guidance on effective ways to manage work health and safety risks.

Click on the heading to further explore the model Codes of Practice.

National Compliance and Enforcement Policy

This outlines the approach regulators will take to ensure compliance is met. Detailed information can be found on the Safe Work Australia website, click the heading to go to this site.

To find out where your state is up in the harmonisation program, click on your state WHS regulator.

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