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Role and functions

Safe Work Australia was established as a statutory agency on 1 November 2009 under the Safe Work Australia Act 2008 (the Safe Work Australia Act). It is the body leading the development of national policy to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation across Australia. Safe Work Australia does not undertake any regulatory functions.

The establishment of Safe Work Australia was provided for in the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety (the IGA) agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 3 July 2008.

Safe Work Australia is responsible for coordinating and developing national policy and strategies, developing model work health and safety (WHS) laws, undertaking research and collecting, analysing and reporting data. Safe Work Australia works collaboratively with work health and safety regulators, industry groups and unions to achieve the national vision of healthy, safe and productive working lives.

The agency is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. The funding arrangement promotes collaboration with jurisdictions on policy development, research and evaluation, implementation, compliance, data collection and analysis and communication activities.

Our Members work with staff to deliver the objectives of the Safe Work Australia Strategic Plan 2013-2016 and Safe Work Australia Operational Plan 2013-2014.

The agency’s functions are set out in the Safe Work Australia Act. Since the establishment of Safe Work Australia, a central function has been to progress the development of model WHS laws. Other functions are to:

  • monitor, review and evaluate the model WHS laws including making changes to improve the operational efficiency of the model WHS laws, reduce regulatory burden and support ongoing reform to improve safety outcomes
  • continue to develop policy proposals to improve the consistency of explosives legislation across Australia
  • facilitate the provision of simple, practical guidance to aid compliance, especially for small business
  • collect, maintain, improve and report on national work health and safety and workers’ compensation data
  • identify priority issues, undertake and disseminate research, including on emerging issues
  • national coordination and monitoring of the implementation of the Australian Strategy
  • promote consistent work health and safety and workers’ compensation messaging
  • improve consistency in workers’ compensation arrangements, and
  • liaise with other countries or international organisations on matters relating to work health and safety and workers’ compensation.

Safe Work Australia is subject to the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act).


Chief Executive Officer’s review

Michelle Baxter

Safe Work Australia’s data shows that in the past decade the number of work-related deaths has fallen by 33 percent to 191 people in 2013, the lowest number of fatalities recorded. While more than 117 800 Australians received compensation for a serious injury or illness in 2012-13, the rate of these serious claims has decreased by 29 percent over the last decade. While recognising this number is still too high, I am pleased that Safe Work Australia has actively contributed to the ongoing reduction in work-related death, injury and disease.

Apart from the obvious human impact, continued improvement to work health and safety has implications for the community and the economy. Work-related injury and illness costs Australian workers, their employers and the community more than $60 billion a year. The benefits of effectively managing this important issue are clear, but improving work health and safety requires employers, workers, and the broader community to lead by example and empower others to bring about real change.

Implementation of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 remains a key way for Safe Work Australia to influence the development of safety leadership and an improved safety culture. With its vision of healthy, safe and productive working lives, the Australian Strategy is designed to drive key national activities to achieve improvement in work health and safety. Our annual report highlights Safe Work Australia’s achievements for 2013-14 and provides a record of our performance against our Strategic Plan 2013-2016. This strategic plan reflects the vision, goals and outcomes of the Australian Strategy.

Together with our Members, during 2013-14 Safe Work Australia has worked to improve the work health and safety legislative framework, increase work health and safety awareness and skills and develop a robust evidence base to inform policy and practice. Our nationally significant research program, data collection and analysis drives the development of new policy and identifies areas which require intervention to improve work health and safety and workers’ compensation outcomes.

Safe Work Australia continued its multi-year evaluation of the impact of implementing the model work health and safety laws. We also continued developing materials to assist businesses of all sizes and individual workers understand how to comply with these laws. Significant effort has gone into understanding what information small business needs to assist it to meet its obligations. Gaining first hand feedback from small business owners meant we were able to produce materials which reflect the needs of business without compromising safety standards.

There is an increasing amount of evidence that good work is good for a person’s physical, mental, social and financial health. Workers’ compensation schemes aim to facilitate timely, safe and durable return to work following an injury. It is troubling then, that the median time lost following compensation for an injury resulting in at least one week off work has gradually increased over the last seven years from four to five working weeks.

For the second year, Safe Work Australia worked with the Commonwealth, states and territories to run the National Return to Work Survey. The 2014 survey was run in May 2014 with New Zealand and all Australian jurisdictions, except for the Australian Capital Territory, taking part. The survey is designed to allow us to better understand the experience of workers with a workers’ compensation claim for an injury and the factors associated with positive return to work outcomes. The results of the survey will be used to develop national policy or programs to improve return to work outcomes.

I am committed as Safe Work Australia’s new Chief Executive Officer, to ensuring our continued relevance and capacity to influence and drive real and measurable change. Since becoming CEO I have put particular emphasis on understanding the requirements of all our stakeholders including our Chair and Members, and charting a future direction in which Safe Work Australia operates and engages at a strategic national level. In 2014-15 we will focus on:

  • monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the model WHS laws to improve operational efficiency, reduce regulatory burden and improve safety outcomes
  • facilitating the development of simple, practical guidance to aid understanding and compliance, particularly for small business
  • collecting, maintaining, improving and reporting on national work health and safety and workers’ compensation data
  • undertaking and disseminating research, including on emerging issues
  • national coordination and monitoring of the implementation of the Australian Strategy
  • promoting consistent messages on work health and safety and workers’ compensation
  • improving consistency in workers’ compensation arrangements
  • liaising with other countries or international organisations on matters relating to work health and safety and workers’ compensation activities
  • developing policy proposals to improve the consistency of explosives legislation across Australia, and
  • maintaining and improving the framework for workplace hazardous chemicals.

Michelle Baxter
Chief Executive Officer
Safe Work Australia

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Last modified on Wednesday 24 May 2017 [7941|51426]