Safety in Australia
In common with most of Europe and North America, Australian State Parliaments have responded to the problem of workplace illness, injury, and death by enacting legislation regulating workplace hazards. Until the 1970s and 80s, these standards were generally detailed and technical, focusing mainly on prescriptive measures such as specifying machinery guarding measures to be adopted to prevent injury to workers operating dangerous machinery. Beginning in 2008, state and federal regulations were harmonised, giving greater clarity and consistency in the legistation in effect in the various states.
Acts and regulations prior to 2012
Each State and Territory has a principal health and safety Act which sets out requirements for ensuring that workplaces are safe and healthy. These requirements spell out the general responsibilities of different groups of people who play a role in the workplace. Victoria, for example, first adopted modern occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation through the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985. The scheme has since been renewed through the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
Regulations were formulated under occupational health and safety statutes to set the standards to be achieved for the management of particular hazards such as noise, chemicals, machinery and manual handling. Reflecting the wave of occupational health and safety regulation reform that swept through Australia from the mid-1970s, following the British Robens Report, the Australian States and Territories enacted legislation that replaced the traditional style legislation with performance-based legislation imposing broad general duties, with regulations and codes generally abandoning technical, detailed, specification standards, and instead using a mix of general duties of care, performance standards and process standards. The laws generally set out hazard identification and risk identification, assessment, and control procedures.
The process of harmonization commenced in July 2008 when the Australian Commonwealth, state and territory governments signed an intergovernmental agreement to agree to harmonise health and safety laws across Australia. That process resulted in a National review with over 232 recommendations submitted to workplace relations ministerial council members for approval. Following on from the review and recommendations being endorsed by ministers the National model Work Health and Safety Act was drafted and sent out for public comment in late 2009. Ministers endorsed that Act in December 2009. Following on from that process has been the development of the model regulations and codes of practice. Their intergovernmental agreement (IGA) requires each jurisdiction to implement the moral legislation as mirror laws in their jurisdiction by the first of January 2012. Essentially this means section 16 of the Queensland act should be the same as the section 16 of the Victorian act or in New South Wales.
|Queensland||1 January 2012|
|New South Wales||1 January 2012|
|Tasmania||1 January 2013|
|Northern Territory||1 January 2012|
|Australian Capital Territory||1 January 2012|
|South Australia||1 January 2013|
|Western Australia||Not Implemented|
Benefits of harmonised law
In terms of the benefits of this process really it is about greater clarity and simplicity for all parties because some states of Australia started on the same page from 1 January 2012. In terms of national businesses, they are the ones that are going to have the most benefit from this process. There will be greater certainty and understanding of health and safety laws for them because they can comply with one set of consistent laws regardless of what state they are operating in. there will also be lower compliance costs because national businesses rather than having to develop systems to cover eight different jurisdictions legislation they can spend that time to develop company wide prevention programs based on one set of consistent laws. This also flows through economies of scale In terms of their training and deployment of health and safety expertise throughout their organization.
For government there will be some reduced expenditure in terms of policy function and in terms of developing health and safety laws into the future. Moving into the future the intergovernmental agreement states any future changes to health and safety laws will have to be taken up through that national structure and agreed at that highest level before they are implemented in all the jurisdictions.
Codes of practice
The model WHS Act and Regulation are supported by codes of practice. Codes of Practice are developed to give practical guidance on how the requirements of the Workplace Health & Safety Act 2011 and Workplace Health & Safety Regulation 2011. Codes of Practice are very important documents; The codes of practice are admissible in court as evidence of whether a duty has been complied with. They’ll also provide evidence of what is known about a particular hazard or risk in control measures and can also be relied on determining what is reasonably practicable. Those codes of practice really set the benchmark and you can choose to follow that code or you can choose to follow another way that provides the same or better level of protection. So a good example in this respect is there is a general risk management[dead link] code of practice. You can follow that code, but if you’re a more sophisticated organisation or a larger organisation you may choose to follow the international standard on managing risk in ISO31000.