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About Safe Work Australia

Our role

Safe Work Australia leads the development of national policy and strategies to improve work health and safety (WHS) and workers' compensation across Australia, and assists with the implementation of model WHS laws.

We undertake research and collect, analyse and report data to help the Commonwealth, states and territories and employers and workers in Australia achieve the national vision of healthy, safe and productive working lives.

Safe Work Australia was established as a statutory agency on 1 November 2009 under the Safe Work Australia Act 2008 (the Act). Its establishment was agreed in the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety agreed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 3 July 2008.

Safe Work Australia does not have any regulatory functions.

Our functions

Safe Work Australia's functions are set out in section 2 of the Act. At the time of its establishment, a central function was to develop model WHS laws. These laws in the Commonwealth, territories and most of the states, have now been implemented, and our focus has shifted to monitoring, review and evaluation of the laws. This includes making changes that improve the operational efficiency of the laws, reducing regulatory burden and supporting ongoing reform to improve health and safety outcomes. Other functions include:

  • facilitating the provision of simple, practical guidance to aid compliance, especially for small business
  • collecting, maintaining, improving and reporting on national WHS and workers' compensation data
  • undertaking and disseminating high-quality, nationally significant WHS and workers’ compensation research, including on emerging issues
  • supporting the implementation of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 (Australian Strategy)
  • promoting consistent WHS and workers' compensation messaging
  • improving consistency in workers’ compensation arrangements, and
  • liaising with other countries and international organisations on WHS and workers' compensation matters.

Funding arrangements

Safe Work Australia is jointly funded by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments. This funding arrangement promotes collaboration between jurisdictions on policy development, implementation, compliance and enforcement, and communication activities.

Safe Work Australia is subject to the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act).

Safe Work Australia at a glance

Who are we?

Safe Work Australia develops national policy to improve WHS and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia.

What do we do?

Safe Work Australia works to:

  • coordinate and develop national policy and strategies
  • assist with the implementation of model WHS legislation
  • monitor, review and evaluate the model WHS laws
  • undertake research, and
  • collect, analyse and report data.

Why our work is important

In 2016, 182 Australians died as a result of work-related injuries and 104 770 workers received workers’ compensation for a serious injury or illness. All workers, regardless of their occupation, have the right to healthy, safe and well-designed work.

Our outcome

We are working to achieve healthier, safer and more productive workplaces through improvements to Australian WHS and workers’ compensation arrangements.

Who we work with

We work closely with Commonwealth, state and territory governments, as well as unions and employer associations.

The agency

As at 30 June 2017, Safe Work Australia employed 99 ongoing and 4 non-ongoing staff.

70% of staff are female.

Our culture

We work together to foster a positive, innovative, resilient and collaborative culture.

We are striving to be a centre of excellence in policy development by creating a great workplace that enables everyone to be and do their best.

Our values

We value:

  • excellence
  • people
  • communication, and
  • service.

Chief Executive Officer's year in review

Michelle Baxter, Cheif Executive Officer, Safe Work Australia
Michelle Baxter, Chief Executive Officer, Safe Work Australia.

As the national policy body for WHS and workers’ compensation, Safe Work Australia plays an important role in achieving healthier, safer and more productive workplaces in Australia. As the Chief Executive Officer I am pleased to lead an organisation which strives to achieve our ultimate goal of all workers coming home safely to their families every day.

2016–17 marks the half way point of the Australian Strategy which drives key national activities to achieve improvements in WHS. The Safe Work Australia Corporate Plan 2016–2020 reflects the goals and outcomes of the Australian Strategy and sets the vision for Australia to become a world leader in the delivery of improved health safety and workers’ compensation outcomes.

Across the country there has been a reduction in the number of work related deaths and injuries. The fatality rate has decreased by 50 per cent from 3.0 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2007 to 1.5 in 2016. The incidence rate of serious injuries has also decreased from 14.2 serious claims per 1000 employees in 2005–06 to 10.0 in 2014–15.

However, clearly one workplace fatality is too many and all incidents are a constant reminder of the importance of our work. These tragedies urge us to keep doing all we can to achieve real improvements to the working lives of all Australians.

This annual report highlights our achievements, the opportunities and the challenges of the past financial year and details how we have met the objectives set by our corporate and operational plans.

Delivering our outcomes

In 2016–17, Safe Work Australia worked hard to make improvements in all areas of its work, with a focus on making real and tangible improvements in our priority areas. It is inspiring in this context to see many targets set by the Australian Strategy being met and even exceeded (see Part 4 - Our achievements for more details).

Among the seven priority industries identified in the Australian Strategy, agriculture is identified as a focus during the first five years. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in due to the combination of hazards including plant, chemicals, noise, dust, sun exposure, working remotely and working with animals. Across the country, many activities are underway to improve safety for workers in the agricultural sector. Our efforts in this area over the last year included publishing the report Work health and safety in the agricultural industry, releasing a Guide to managing risks in cattle handling and partnering with the National Farmers’ Federation to produce farm safety videos. In addition, quad bike safety remains a priority; we are rejuvenating the QuadWatch microsite, ensuring it is the national portal for health and safety information on quad bike use, and will shortly republish the Quad bikes in rural workplaces information sheet, to ensure it is up to date and accessible.

We have a number of key policy areas that continue to be a focus. A serious issue facing all workplaces is the mental health of its employees. Safe Work Australia is developing national guidance for businesses to prevent psychological injuries, support workers recovering at work and ensure a safe and sustainable return to work after a psychological injury. We also made solid progress on policy projects on changes to the model WHS Regulations for inorganic lead, working in heat guidance, the development of a best practice framework for the management of psychological claims in the workers’ compensation sector and the development of nationally consistent explosives regulation. This is the type of work which will have a practical and lasting impact on WHS and workers’ compensation outcomes.

Safe Work Australia collects and maintains a rich body of national WHS and workers’ compensation data. Our analysis enables the development of genuine evidence-informed policy across priority areas. In 2016-17 research was undertaken on topics including shift work, musculoskeletal disorders and exposure to asthmagens in the workplace. We published the Australian Workers’ Compensation Statistics 2014–15, the 2016 Comparative Performance Monitoring Report 18th edition and a Headline Measure Report and Summary Research Report on the results of the 2016 Return to Work Survey. Significantly, Safe Work Australia’s 2017 awareness raising campaign on World Day for Safety and Health at Work and International Workers’ Memorial Day focused on how data can make a difference.

Communicating WHS messages so that they become a normal part of our conversation and every day work life is vital. Workers and workplaces are information hungry and more technologically savvy than ever before. We know we can’t rely on the technology of the past so we have embraced new technologies to transform our key communication channels. We launched a new website to enhance how people view and access our information and guidance material. An online collaboration and consultation hub called Engage was also launched and is now being used successfully across many projects.

An important element of our communication strategy is our popular Virtual Seminar Series (VSS). 2016-17 saw the VSS transition to an ongoing program with 30 free seminars broadcast year-round. Throughout 2016-17, there were more than 60,000 views of VSS broadcasts with extremely positive viewer feedback. Our feedback told us that one month of seminars is not enough and the VSS needs to run all the time, so we have delivered.

Looking ahead

As we move into the second half of the Australian Strategy, Safe Work Australia will continue to strive to ensure outcomes are delivered by 2022 and beyond.

In addition to the mid-term review of the Australian Strategy, the review of the model WHS laws and the review of the model Codes of Practice will shape our work in the coming year. These reviews all provide an important opportunity to work with jurisdictions and social partners to ensure the 12 / Safe Work Australia Annual Report 2016–17 legislative framework and our policy priorities reflect the needs of contemporary, and future, workplaces and workforces.

We will pursue more innovative ways of addressing priority WHS and workers’ compensation issues, taking full advantage of our data and research resources, to ensure our efforts result in real and measurable change in workplaces. The management and prevention of occupational violence, bullying and psychological health will remain a focus, as will improving return to work rates and ensuring return to safe work is sustainable. Musculoskeletal disorders, the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims, will also take priority.

The prevention of occupational disease is a critical part of our work and central to this is the current review of Workplace Exposure Standards. This work is ground-breaking - it is the first time the use of the existing 644 exposure standards, their role in the regulatory framework and how they can be reviewed and monitored in the future has been attempted. I am pleased that countries including Canada and the UK are watching what Australia is doing to see whether it is something that may wish to adopt. It is work like this which is the value add of Safe Work Australia – we are undertaking essential national policy work and finding solutions to national policy issues.

I am delighted that Safe Work Australia continues to drive health and safety improvements in workplaces around Australia and look forward to a busy, challenging and productive year ahead.

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