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What do we mean by ‘government’?

Australia has three levels of government:

  • the Commonwealth government
  • state and territory governments, and
  • local councils.

How can governments improve work health and safety?

Governments have a range of tools to improve work health and safety including regulation and information, education, awareness and compliance campaigns.

The Commonwealth and state and territory governments regulate work health and safety through their own laws. Visit Responsive and effective regulatory framework for more information.

All three levels of government interact with Australian businesses, organisations and communities through their policies, programs and services.

Strategic outcomes

Activities under the Australian Strategy will support the following outcomes:

  • Work health and safety consideration will be included during the development, implementation and evaluation phases of government policy.
  • Governments will use their investment and purchasing power to improve work health and safety.
  • Governments exemplify good work health and safety.

National activities

Government work health and safety policy framework

Safe Work Australia is running a collaborative Commonwealth project to develop a framework that incorporates health and safety into government policy development and implementation.

The framework addresses all health and safety risks that might arise as a result of the implementation of Government policy and ensures work health and safety risks are actively managed at every stage in the policy development and implementation cycle.

A working group comprising representatives from:

jointly developed the framework.

Three principles underpin this project:

  • Workers’ and others’ health and safety should not be harmed as a result of government program and service delivery.
  • Work health and safety is considered throughout policy development.
  • Work health and safety risks are actively managed during policy implementation.

The framework embeds the good work design principles at critical decision points in the policy development cycle. Applying these principles provides the greatest opportunities for finding ways to design out hazards and incorporate effective risk control measures.

Figure 1 Government WHS policy framework
WHS is actively managed during policy development and implementation


The Government WHS Policy Framework is a diagram depicting how WHS issues should be considered over seven stages of the policy life cycle, to help eliminate or minimise WHS risks that might arise in the delivery of a policy. 
The overarching objective ‘Health and safe policy implementation’ is stated at the centre.
The cycle begins at the plan stage, then progresses through the develop stage, the agree stage and the pre roll-out testing stage, before it is handed over to those persons responsible for managing the delivery of the policy, at the handover stage. After the handover comes the delivery stage. Finally, the last stage of the cycle is the evaluation stage.
Two arrows circle the Framework signifying that WHS risk identification and assessment and WHS risk management are required throughout the entire policy cycle. 
There are three points marked on the cycle where the Good Work Design Principles are to be applied. These points are at the plan stage, the develop stage and the agree stage. 

The planning and development phase includes defining the problem, analysing alternatives and developing policy options. This involves:

  • Seeking advice on work health and safety matters from the workers and from external experts (for example, by consulting with others with experience delivering government programmes).
  • Applying the risk management principles to identify and assess hazards and risks.

The pre-roll out testing phase allows all parties to identify unforeseen risks to the health and safety of workers and ensure effective control measures can be introduced before the full program rollout.

The handover phase allows those who have developed the policy to summarise the identified risks and control measures for those who will lead and manage the program’s delivery.

The policy delivery and evaluation phases should explicitly include risks and the adequacy of the controls. The evaluation should assess the process and feed the results back to inform future programmes.

Next steps: Safe Work Australia will continue to progress the framework’s inclusion in Commonwealth Government policy guidance documents and to develop guides, tools and other user resources to support the implementation of the framework.

International engagement

Australian governments are represented on international committees including the United Nations, World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation to influence international policy on workplace health and safety.

In September 2014, Australia hosted the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting. At this meeting, Ministers from across the G20 nations released a Ministerial Declaration which states:

Improving workplace safety and health is an urgent priority that protects workers and contributes to increased productivity and growth.

Read further information on G20 Employment.

Governments actively encourage suppliers to maintain good work health and safety practices and performance – particularly with construction projects. Government initiatives in work health and safety are evident in tenders, contractual arrangements and annual reporting.

Draft guidance for contractor engagement in the Commonwealth

Comcare has published draft guidance to help compliance with work health and safety for contractor engagement in Commonwealth workplaces.

Reporting on work health and safety

All governments at the federal, state and local level undertake activities to support their employees’ health and safety. These activities and their performance are reported in government annual reports.
Increasingly, governments are considering work health and safety performance as part of corporate social responsibility when deciding where to invest government funds (for example, employee superannuation or statutory deposits).

Governments as exemplar employers

In meeting their obligations as employers, governments can set an example to other employers and the Australian community by ensuring the highest level of protection against harm for their workers. All Australian government public sectors have developed comprehensive guidance supported by their work health and safety regulator to improve health and safety in their sector.

National work health and safety injury management forum

This forum was initiated under the National OHS Strategy 2002-2012. It is a collective of senior representatives from all Australian and New Zealand government agencies.

The members report on public sector projects and share information of effective and innovative work health and safety and injury management practices, solutions and resources for government workplaces.


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