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Early attempts to achieve harmonisation

The benefits of a consistent approach to WHS was recognised in the mid-1980s and led to the National Standards and National Codes of Practice being developed in a number of key subject areas.

This early work was carried out by the NOHSC—a tripartite body including representatives from Commonwealth, state and territory OHS regulators, along with industry and unions.

The National Standards did not have legal status and were not enforceable unless a jurisdiction adopted them into their OHS regulations. This led to significant differences nationwide regarding which protocols were adopted, how jurisdictions drafted and applied them, and whether they were adopted as a code of practice or regulation.

Despite these difficulties, significant improvements in consistency were achieved in the areas of hazardous chemicals, occupational licensing and noise.

A new process and national commitment

At the WRMC meeting on 1 February 2008, Ministers agreed model legislation was the most effective way to achieve harmonisation of WHS laws. 

In July 2008, COAG signed the IGA that sets out the principles and processes for cooperation between the Commonwealth, states and territories to implement model legislation.

This was the first time all jurisdictions had made a formal commitment to harmonise WHS laws in Australia within a set timeframe. It included the development and implementation of a complete and fully integrated package that consisted of a model Act, supported by model Regulations, model Codes of Practice and a National Compliance and Enforcement Policy.

The IGA also set out the consultation processes for developing the model WHS laws, including that we release an exposure draft bill and a Regulation Impact Statement for public comment. The Regulation Impact Statements were prepared in accordance with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) best practice regulation guidelines for Ministerial Councils and National Standard Setting Bodies.

National OHS review

The National Review into Model Occupational Health and Safety Laws was conducted to make recommendations on the optimal structure and content of a model OHS Act that was capable of being adopted in all jurisdictions.

The national OHS review was carried out by a panel of three independent experts that undertook extensive public consultation with regulators, union and employer organisations, industry representatives, legal professionals, academics and health and safety professionals.

The panel made 232 recommendations in two reports and in May 2009 the WRMC set policy parameters for developing a model Act based on these recommendations.

To drive the development and implementation of model WHS laws, the IGA also required the formation of an independent body, Safe Work Australia.

Model WHS Act

We released a draft model WHS Act for public comment in September 2009. A total of 480 submissions were received, which resulted in a number of amendments to the draft. A revised model WHS Act was endorsed by Ministers on 11 December 2009 and Ministers authorised us to make any further technical and drafting amendments to ensure its workability.

On 29 April 2010, SWA Members endorsed the amendments to the model WHS Act and a final version was published on our website. This was accompanied by a Regulation Impact Statement on the draft model WHS Act.

Model WHS Regulations and Codes of Practice

Under the IGA, the process for developing the model WHS Regulations required us to consider areas that are the subject of existing regulations. Unless matters were already regulated in a majority of the jurisdictions, they were not included in the model WHS Regulations.

The draft model WHS Regulations and an initial tranche of draft model Codes of Practice were released for public comment in December 2010, with a total of 1,343 submissions received. A second tranche of draft model Codes of Practice was released for comment in September 2011.

The final agreed model WHS Regulations were published on our website on 4 November 2011 and 23 model Codes of Practice were published between December 2011 and July 2012.

The Regulation Impact Statement on the model WHS Regulations and Codes of Practice was also released on our website.

The Commonwealth, Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland implemented the model WHS laws in their jurisdiction on 1 January 2012. South Australia and Tasmania implemented the model WHS laws on 1 January 2013. Victoria and Western Australia have not implemented the model WHS laws.

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