In 2011, Safe Work Australia developed a single set of WHS laws to be implemented across Australia. These are known as ‘model’ laws. For the model WHS laws to become legally binding, the Commonwealth, states and territories must separately implement them as their own laws.
We are responsible for maintaining the model WHS laws, but we don’t regulate or enforce them.
The model WHS laws include:
- the model WHS Act
- the model WHS Regulations
- model Codes of Practice.
These elements are supported by the National compliance and enforcement policy, which sets out principles of how WHS regulators monitor and enforce compliance with their jurisdictions’ WHS laws.
WHS regulators in the Commonwealth and in each state and territory are responsible for regulating and enforcing the laws in their jurisdictions. The model WHS laws have been implemented in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Commonwealth. Some jurisdictions have made minor variations to make sure the legislation is consistent with their relevant drafting protocols and other laws and processes.
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.
We have published some additional documents that complement the model WHS Act:
The Explanatory Memorandum to the model WHS Act explains how the Act operates.
Guide to the model WHS Act
The Guide to the model WHS Act provides an overview of the Act and will help you understand health and safety duties at work.
The interpretive guidelines are a formal statement on how WHS regulators believe key concepts in the model WHS Act operate, and indicate how the laws will be enforced. We have published four interpretive guidelines:
- The meaning of ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’
- The health and safety duty of an officer under section 27
- The meaning of ‘reasonably practicable’
- Discriminatory, coercive or misleading conduct
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.
Explanatory Statement to the model WHS Regulations
The Explanatory Statement to the model WHS Regulations explains how the model WHS Regulations operate.
Guide to the model WHS Regulations
The Guide to the model WHS Regulations provides a broad overview of 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 in a jurisdiction, a model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice there. 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.
While approved codes of practice are not law, they are admissible in court proceedings. Courts may regard an approved code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the relevant code to determine what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
Review of the model WHS laws
A review of the content and operation of the model WHS laws was conducted in 2018. Safe Work Australia is now consulting on the impacts of the recommendations in the Review of the model WHS laws: Final report.
National compliance and enforcement policy
WHS Ministers have agreed to the National compliance and enforcement policy to support the model WHS laws by ensuring a nationally consistent approach to compliance and enforcement.
The policy sets out the aims of compliance and enforcement as well as the principles underpinning the approach WHS regulators will take to monitoring and enforcing compliance with WHS laws.
The National compliance and enforcement policy was endorsed by our Members on 29 July 2011 and by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council on 10 August 2011.
Harmonising WHS laws
Harmonisation of WHS laws was part of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Reform Agenda that aimed to reduce regulatory burden and create a seamless national economy. The formal harmonisation process started with the establishment of the Intergovernmental agreement for regulatory and operational reform in occupational health and safety in July 2008.
The objectives of harmonising WHS laws through a model framework include:
- protect the health and safety of workers
- improve safety outcomes in workplace
- reduce compliance costs for business
- improve efficiency for regulatory agencies.
We are responsible for maintaining the model WHS laws. We cannot advise you about WHS laws in your jurisdiction. If you need help, please contact your local WHS regulator.