model Work Health and Safety Act 2011

The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act 2011, which forms the basis of the WHS Acts and Regulations across states and territories, harmonises work health and safety laws on a national basis. It sets out certain objectives to be achieved, along with the requirements and guidelines set out in the WHS regulations.

The objective of a nationally consistent framework is to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. The WHS Act does this by:

  • protecting workers and other persons from harm by requiring duty holders (employers) to eliminate or minimise risk
  • providing fair and effective representation, consultation and cooperation
  • encouraging unions and employer organisations to take a constructive role in promoting improvements in WHS practices
  • promoting the provision of advice, information, education, and training for WHS
  • securing compliance with the Act through effective and appropriate compliance and enforcement measures
  • providing a framework for continuous improvement 
  • maintaining and strengthening national harmonisation of WHS laws and facilitating a consistent national approach to WHS.

Health and safety law covers both the general obligations of all employers and specific regulations for each industry sector. Breaches of health and safety law may become the object of both civil and criminal legal proceedings. The individual welfare of employees is also covered by the law: if work-related circumstances, such as stress, adversely affect an employee’s mental or physical health and well-being, the employer can in certain circumstances be held responsible. An employer has a duty of care to ensure that all reasonable action has been taken to minimise or eliminate those risks where possible.

principles of the work health and safety act

  • duty of care - a business must use risk management, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of workers and other people exposed to its business operations
  • meaning of worker - workers include those engaged in the course of running the business, whether they are engaged as employees or contractors, labour hire, franchisees, volunteers, etc. These workers also have safety duties
  • cooperate with other businesses - the business must consult, cooperate and co-ordinate as far as possible with other businesses that have a similar duty for those workers, so that nothing within your influence or control falls between the cracks
  • consult with workers - the business must consult with workers when the business makes a decision that could affect their health and safety. If the workers have chosen to elect health and safety representatives the business must involve those representatives in the consultation 
  • upstream duties - the business must consider the health and safety effects of what it designs, makes, imports, sells or installs if those things are used in Australian workplaces
  • union right of entry - the business must permit union officials entry access to the workplace in certain circumstances and under certain conditions

  • due diligence - the directors and senior managers of a business must exercise due diligence to ensure the business meets its WHS duties.

WHS regulations and codes of practice

Along with the model WHS Act, there are also model WHS Regulations that set out detailed requirements to support the duties outlined in the model WHS Act. These regulations also state administrative or procedural requirements, such as licenses for specific activities, or record keeping.

The model Codes of Practice are practical guides on how to achieve the standards of health and safety required under the model WHS Act and Regulations. Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and do not cover all hazards or risks that may arise. 

consulting workers

The WHS Act requires that workers who are (or are likely to be) directly affected by any potential hazards must be consulted at each step of the risk management process, so far as is reasonably practicable. Where there are health and safety representatives, they must be involved in any consultation. By drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of workers you are more likely to identify all hazards and choose effective control measures. An employer working at best practice will routinely consult with its employees on these important matters.

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