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What are Health and Safety Laws in the Workplace?

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As an employer, you must be aware of your duties surrounding health and safety and understand the best ways to implement good practices in your workplace. Relevant workplace health and safety laws will differ depending on the state or territory in which your business operates. However, there are national policies that set specific standards for all employers Australia-wide. The ultimate aim of these laws is to protect Australian employees and businesses. This article will take you through what you need to know about health and safety laws in the workplace.

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Workplace Health and Safety

Workplace health and safety (WHS), sometimes referred to as occupational health and safety (OH&S), refers to managing risks to ensure the health and safety of all people in a workplace. Hence, these laws protect now only employees, but also customers, suppliers, and visitors.

Depending on the industry you operate in, the risks associated with your business will be different. For example, the building and construction industry has specific WHS requirements, including requirements for electrical safety, demolition work, preventing falls, and managing noise.

On the other hand, the accommodation and foodservice industry has specific requirements to prevent burns from hot liquids, surfaces and steam and standards for protective clothing and equipment.

Therefore, while this might require an upfront investment, it is worth seeking independent advice on the WHS requirements for your business and its specific industry.

State and Territory Laws

Safe Work Australia is the national policy body responsible for overseeing the development and updating of the model WHS laws Australia-wide. These model laws are implemented across Australia. However this excludes Victoria and Western Australia, who have taken separate action to implement these laws. However, in each state and territory, a different regulating body enforces and administers WHS laws, inspects workplaces, and gives advice relating to WHS.

The following Acts outline WHS Laws in NSW:

  • Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW);
  • Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW); and
  • NSW Codes of Practice. 

Further, SafeWork NSW serves as the state regulator, and the State Insurance Regulatory Authority (NSW) separately oversees workplace compensation regulation.

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Employer’s Duties

As an employer, it is your responsibility to take reasonable and practicable measures to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety in your workplace. 

To do this, you should:

  • consult with your employees regarding health and safety matters;
  • provide a safe work environment and safe ways of working;
  • provide and maintain safe machinery and structures;
  • ensure safe use and handling of all equipment, such as by providing relevant training, information and supervision; and
  • regularly monitor your workplace conditions. 

Therefore, to adequately minimise WHS issues, you should be prepared to respond to issues as they arise. For example, you may need to develop and implement an emergency plan outlining a policy for responding to WHS incidents. You might also wish to have suitable first aid equipment at the workplace, and should have enough trained staff to respond to workplace incidents.

Workplace health and safety laws go beyond physical safety. Consequently, it is equally important to protect the emotional and mental well-being of staff. This might include developing policies and procedures for responding to workplace bullying and harassment.

Worker’s Duties

As well as your obligations, as an employer, to adequately meet WHS standards, employees must also take action to mitigate risks. Your workers have specific obligations to protect themselves and others, including: 

  • being familiar with your workplace’s WHS policies; 
  • taking reasonable care for their health and safety, and the safety of others; and
  • using any necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).

Benefits of WHS

To sum up, the purpose of WHS is to create a safe work environment for everyone. As well as being essential for the success of your business, it is also a legal requirement. Additionally, beyond meeting your legal obligations as an employer, some benefits of WHS include:

  • retaining staff by preventing injury and illness;
  • improving staff productivity and motivation; and
  • reducing the cost of injury and workers’ compensation payments. 

To reap the benefits of WHS laws, you must implement the correct practices as soon as you commence business operations.

Key Takeaways 

As a business owner, you should ensure you know your obligations and the best ways to implement WHS laws in your workplace. Some key points to know about WHS are:

  • Safe Work Australia is the national policy body responsible for model WHS laws;
  • each state and territory has different WHS regulating bodies; and
  • both employers and workers should be cautious about meeting WHS standards.

If you need assistance determining best practices for your employees, our experienced employment lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 1300 544 755 or visit our membership page.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is workplace health and safety?

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS), sometimes referred to as occupational health and safety (OH&S), refers to managing risks to ensure the health and safety of all those in a workplace. As well as the protection of employees, WHS extends to customers, suppliers and visitors.

What are the workplace health and safety duties of employers?

To ensure health and safety in their workplace, employers should ensure to provide a safe work environment and safe ways of working and provide and maintain safe machinery and structures. Employers can also ensure safe use and handling of all equipment by providing relevant training, information, and supervision required and by regularly monitoring workplace conditions. Depending on the industry you operate in, the risks associated with your business – so the policies and procedures you should implement will differ.

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