Work Health & Safety Harmonisation is Here!

Don’t fall into the trap if thinking this matter is not relevant to your business as you’re in the “white collar” space. As this article highlights, the risks are the same, it’s just the source and nature of the workplace injury that differs. So do read on.

The 1st January, 2012 saw the introduction of nationally consistent health and safety laws and new model codes of practice which aims at improving the work health and safety for all Australians.  Released also is the new model codes of practice that provide practical guidance to help companies minimise particular areas of risk and meet their obligations under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and regulations.It is important to note however that while the laws will be similar in each State, they will not all be the same and the States will continue to operate as separate jurisdictions. They will also be able to enact their own legislation, as evidenced by Queensland's recent introduction of safety laws for its diving industry.

What’s changing?

Accountability is the big focus of WHS harmonisation with the new laws demanding greater visibility into WHS practices, better communication and more comprehensive reporting. Business owners, directors and other management will find their duty of care far more tightly defined. In some States, for the first time, this duty will extend to labour hire, contractors and subcontractors. Where duty of care to a worker overlaps with another organisation - for example, if a cleaning company employee is sent to work on a customer site - the two organisations will need to consult and work together to ensure proper attention to Work Health and Safety issues.The implications are that companies are likely to seek reassurance from their business partners' that their practices are WHS compliant as demonstrated by some government departments mandating suppliers provide clearly documented WHS policies before engaging them.The new legislation also point to a requirement for more consultation with workers on WHS matters with the an onus on employers to identify and structure ways to encourage workers to share their views and experiences, and to gain their input into discussions regarding practical approaches to resolving health and safety risks.Accordingly all this, should be documented to avoid future criticisms or disputes. New procedures may need to be drawn up and reports prepared to ensure full management visibility of their responsibilities.Reporting Requirements

In addition to written policies which prove compliance, there are a number of additional specific reporting requirements. Serious or dangerous incidents including fatalities and certain illnesses must be notified to the relevant State authority (or authorities) immediately and records of the event must be kept for a specific period of time. Human Resources need to understand these requirements as soon as possible to ensure that appropriate notification and record keeping standards are in place from day one.  What should you do now 

Human resources and occupational health and safety staff should revisit their existing WHS plans and check their risk management strategy. Confirm that the scope of strategy is still appropriate for the business; check the relevant State government health and safety websites to determine exactly what your duty of care obligations are under the new regime. Consider conducting risk assessments to identify potential risks and put in place mitigation measures. Begin consulting with staff to ensure that safety programs are practical and that they are achieving their aims.

Seek ways of promoting awareness of safety requirements, not just to staff but to customers, contractors and other business partners. And look at introducing systems to manage alerts, notifications and related documents.Besides the promise of reducing OHS complexity and paperwork, harmonisation provides an exceptional opportunity to strengthen management and employee awareness of risk. With any luck, it might even prove to be the impetus for developing an improved work and safety culture in Australia's boardrooms and workplaces.


Mental Health


When discussing Work Health and Safety, many of the organisations working in the “white collar” space tend to have the position that this really doesn’t affect me as we don’t operate heavy machinery, etc. Wrong! Every year NSW pays out a total of $65 Million on work place injury involving psychological damage. The mental health safety of your staff is as much the responsibility of the employer as is their physical safety. Exhaustion, prolonged unreasonable stress, bullying, harassment are all workplace risks which may directly affect the Psychological health of the employee.


This article was inspired by a paper by Moshe Woods, who is Director, Safety, Risk and Claims Management Solutions at ComOps).