Model WHS laws

In 2011, Safe Work Australia developed the model work health and safety (WHS) laws to be implementedacross Australia. To become legally binding the Commonwealth, states and territories must separately implement them as their own laws. Safe Work Australia is responsible for maintaining the model WHS laws, but we don’t regulate or enforce them.

The model WHS laws include: 

Commonwealth and state and territory regulators oversee and enforce the laws in their jurisdictions. WHS regulators are supported by the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy, which sets out principles of how WHS regulators monitor and enforce compliance within their jurisdiction.  

The model laws have been implemented in all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia. Western Australia is currently consulting on options to implement elements of the model laws. Some jurisdictions have made minor variations to make sure the legislation is consistent with their relevant drafting protocols and other laws and processes. The model WHS Act Cross-Comparison Table summarises these variations.  

For information on the operation of WHS laws in your jurisdiction, please contact your WHS regulator. 

Model WHS Act 

The model WHS Act forms the basis of the WHS Acts that have been implemented in most jurisdictions across Australia. 

The main object of the Act is to provide for a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces. It does this by: 

  • protecting workers and other persons from harm by requiring duty holders to eliminate or minimise risk 
  • providing for fair and effective representation, consultation and cooperation 
  • encouraging unions and employer organisations to take a constructive role in promoting improvements in WHS practices 
  • promoting the provision of advice, information, education and training for WHS
  • securing compliance with the Act through effective and appropriate compliance and enforcement measures 
  • ensuring appropriate scrutiny and review of actions taken by persons with powers or functions under the Act 
  • providing a framework for continuous improvement 
  • maintaining and strengthening national harmonisation of WHS laws and facilitating a consistent national approach to WHS. 

Safe Work Australia has published additional documents that complement the model WHS Act: 

  • The explanatory memorandum to the model WHS Act explains how the Act operates. 
  • The Guide to the model WHS Act also provides an overview of the WHS Act and will help you understand health and safety duties at work.  

Model WHS Regulations 

The model WHS Regulations set out detailed requirements to support the duties in the model WHS Act. They also prescribe procedural or administrative requirements to support the model WHS Act (for example requiring licences for specific activities and keeping records). 

We have published some additional documents that complement the model WHS Regulations: 

Model Codes of Practice 

Model Codes of Practice are practical guides to achieving the standards of health and safety required under the model WHS Act and Regulations. 

To have legal effect, a model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice in a jurisdiction. To determine if a model Code of Practice has been approved in a particular jurisdiction, check with your local WHS regulator

An approved code of practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code. In most cases, following an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in a jurisdiction’s WHS Act and Regulations. 

Like regulations, codes of practice deal with particular issues and do not cover all hazards or risks that may arise. Health and safety duties require you to consider all risks associated with work, not only those risks that regulations and codes of practice exist for. 

Approved codes of practice are not law, but they are admissible in court proceedings.  

Courts may: 

  • regard an approved code of practice as evidence of a hazard, risk or control 
  • rely on the relevant code to determine what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances. 
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