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As the Australian Strategy makes clear, governments can improve WHS.

Activities under the ‘government’ action area of the Australian Strategy support the following outcomes:

  • WHS is actively considered in the development, implementation and evaluation of government policy.
  • Governments will use their investment and purchasing power to improve WHS.
  • Governments will exemplify good WHS.

How governments improve work health and safety

Australia has three levels of government:

  • Commonwealth
  • state and territory
  • local councils.

The Commonwealth and state and territory governments regulate WHS through their own laws, which are enforced by their WHS regulators.

WHS regulators use a range of tools to improve WHS, including information, education, awareness and compliance campaigns.

National activities

Australian Government WHS Policy Framework

Between 2015–2017, we coordinated the development of the Australian Government WHS Policy Framework to help officials incorporate WHS considerations into Australian Government policy development and implementation.

The Framework is designed to help officials take steps at all stages in the policy cycle to help eliminate or minimise WHS risks that might arise when delivering a policy or program.

Australian Government WHS Policy Framework diagram

Project principles

The Framework follows the policy cycle from planning through to delivery (and subsequent evaluation). The desired outcome, ‘healthy and safe policy implementation’, is identified in the centre of the diagram. The underpinning principles of the Framework are:

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

The Framework prescribes the following at different stages of the policy cycle:

The working group that developed the principles included representatives from:

  • Safe Work Australia
  • Department of Environment
  • Department of Employment
  • Department of Finance
  • Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
  • Comcare
  • Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Department of Education and Training.

Next steps

It is a matter for the Australian Government to decide how to progress inclusion of the Framework in guidance for Australian Government policy officers.

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 WHS.

In September 2014, Australia hosted the G20 Labour and Employment Ministers meeting. Here ministers from across the G20 nations released a Ministerial Declaration that stated: ‘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 and visit our International collaboration page.

Governments as exemplar employers and contractors

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.

Governments implement effective policies to support the health and safety of workers. Governments actively encourage suppliers to maintain good WHS practices and performance, particularly with construction projects. Government initiatives in WHS are evident in tenders, contractual arrangements and annual reporting.

National work health and safety injury management forum

This forum was initiated under the National OHS Strategy 2002–2012. The forum is made up of officials representing Safe Work Australia and Commonwealth, state and territory WHS regulators.

Members share information on effective and innovative WHS and injury management practices, solutions and resources for government workplaces.

Our national approach

The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 has identified government as one of the seven national action areas.

Governments have investment and purchasing power and can effectively engage the community through policy and exemplifying good WHS practice. The influence and power governments have can help us reach our targets of reducing the:

  • incidence of serious injury by at least 30% nationwide by 2022
  • number of work-related fatalities due to injury by at least 20%.

Since the Strategy launched, Safe Work Australia and jurisdictions have been working collaboratively with all levels of government, unions, relevant organisations, industry and the community to influence and promote improvements of WHS in government policies, programs and services.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about work health and safety compliance. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.



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