Work Health and Safety

An important employee relations area, Workplace Health and Safety covers legislation relating to an employee's safety in the workplace.  Beyond legislation this topic also includes the need for organisations to consider an employee's overall wellbeing and how an organisation can develop health and wellbeing programs to improve their employment brand. 

Importance of WHS law

The purpose and objective of work health and safety (WHS) law in Australia is to provide a legislative framework for employers and business operators to take steps to ensure the safety of people they employ and others affected by their business or undertaking.

Harmonisation of WHS laws

Prior to 1 January 2012, each State and Territory in Australia had its own unique set of legislation for dealing with workplace health and safety issues. The purpose of the WHS Act was to impose uniform health and safety obligations on businesses and individuals across Australia and reduce the burden of having to comply with different obligations across different States and Territories.

Current WHS legal framework

Currently, the Commonwealth and all States and Territories, except for Western Australia and Victoria, have adopted the model WHS Act. 


WHS/OHS legislation



Work Health and Safety Act 2011


New South Wales

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

WorkCover NSW


Work Health and Safety Act 2011

Queensland Work Health and Safety

South Australia

Work Health and Safety Act 2012

SafeWork SA


Work Health and Safety Act 2012

Workplace Standards Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

WorkSafe ACT

Northern Territory

Work Health and Safety Act 2011

NT WorkSafe


Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

WorkSafe Victoria

Western Australia

Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984

WorkSafe WA

Model WHS Regulations and Codes of Practice

While the WHS Act sets out the overriding duties and obligations, the WHS Regulations provide the substantive elements that must be adhered to in order to comply with those WHS Act duties and obligations.  It also covers specific types of work such as hazardous work, construction work, hazardous chemicals etc.

The model Codes of Practice, which have been developed by Safe Work Australia, are user friendly guides to assist PCBUs in carrying out work safely.  These Codes set out methods of best practice to ensure that work is carried out in a safe manner.  While the Codes are not legally enforceable, regulators and the courts will rely on them to determine whether PCBUs have done everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of workers and others. 

For more information on the model Codes of Practice, please visit the Safe Work Australia website.

Costs of getting it wrong

Apart from the obvious injuries/death, penalties and compensation associated with workplace incidents, there are significant indirect costs when WHS systems fail.  Poor safety performance can have a large impact on a business' operation and performance, often as a result of reduced productivity and low morale.

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