Legislation and updates

Model Work Health & Safety Legislation was developed for the purpose of introducing a balanced nationally consistent set of laws across Australian States and Territories.

The Commonwealth Constitution of does not allow the Federal government general powers to legislate on OHS. Consequently, there are currently ten different OHS statutes - six individual state based statues, two territory based and two Commonwealth covering Commonwealth employees and certain licensed corporations under the Comcare scheme and the maritime industry.

While all jurisdictions impose broad Robens style general duties, a closer examination reveals that there are significant differences in form and detail between OHS statutes, regulations and codes of practice made under those statutes.

What is OHS harmonisation?

The goal of harmonisation is to introduce balanced and nationally consistent OHS legislation across the country. This will help employers understand their legal obligations better and ensure worker’s rights are protected.

Unions on behalf of their members will continue to seek further improvements to workers' rights under harmonisation.

How will it change current OHS laws?

OHS Harmonisation means national uniformity of OHS legislative framework (comprised of model WHS Act, supported by model WHS legislations and model codes of practice) complemented by nationally consistent approach to compliance and enforcement policy. However, harmonisation does not mean that legislation enacted in all jurisdictions is the same, variations do exist between those harmonised States and Territories.

The approach taken to harmonise the OHS legislation was one based on cooperative federalism where each state, territory and commonwealth jurisdictions would seek to enact model WHS provisions in each jurisdiction rather than a federal takeover of OHS regulation.

The Federal Government conducted two national review of Commonwealth, State and Territory OHS areas of best practice, common practice and any areas of inconsistency. The Panel made recommendations to the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council on the structure and content of the Model Act. 

On foot of these reviews, State and Territory and Commonwealth governments signed the Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health & Safety (the IGA). The purpose of this agreement between governments was to:

(a)    Enable the development of uniform, equitable safety standards and protections for all Australian workers; Address the compliance and regulatory burdens for employers  with operations in more than one jurisdiction;
(b)    Create efficiencies for governments in the provision of OHS regulatory services; and
(c)    Achieve significant and continual reductions in the incidence of death, injury, disease in the workplace

The current process of harmonisation

To date, August 2013, seven jurisdictions the Commonwealth, NSW, QLD, SA, TAS, ACT, and the NT have enacted Work Health & Safety legislation. VIC has stated that it supports the principle of harmonisation but will not implement model WHS laws in their current form. WA was expected to introduce legislation to parliament at the end of 2012 or the beginning but the Barnett Government has indicated that it will not adopt four aspects of the Model WHS Laws:- penalty levels, union right of entry, cease work, and reverse onus of proof for instances of discrimination cases.

On average one Australian is killed every two weeks in Western Australia, while a worker is seriously injured every 30 minutes. Workers in WA should not have lower standards of safety than the rest of the nation.


Links to Work Health & Safety Acts