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WorkSafe Victoria - Common questions about the new WHS laws

Source: WorkSafe Victoria

What are the model work health and safety laws?

Why do we need national laws?

Who is Safe Work Australia?

How was the model Act developed?

What are the benefits of the model laws for workers?

What are the benefits of the model laws for businesses?

Will the model laws replace Victoria's current health and safety laws?

What's changing under the new system?

When will the new laws come into effect?

Where can I get a copy of the model Act?

What are the model Work Health and Safety Regulations?

What are national Codes of Practice?

What topics do the priority Codes of Practice cover?

What can I do now to start preparing for the new laws?


What are the model work health and safety laws?

The model laws are a set of laws that will apply to all states and territories and the Commonwealth.

The new laws are an initiative of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which is chaired by the Prime Minister and comprises State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers. The model laws will include the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety Regulations (WHS Regulations) and be supported by national Codes of Practice and guidance material.

Until they are introduced on 1 January 2012, Victoria will continue to enforce its own health and safety laws.

Why do we need national laws?

Having work health and safety laws that are the same in each jurisdiction will give all Australian workers the same work health and safety standards and protection wherever they work. This will reduce confusion and compliance costs over time, particularly for businesses that operate across borders.

Who is Safe Work Australia?

Safe Work Australia is as an independent statutory agency responsible for improving occupational health and safety and workers' compensation arrangements across the nation.

The Safe Work Australia Members Group has 15 members, including an independent Chair, nine members representing the Commonwealth and each state and territory, two members representing the interests of workers, two members representing the interests of employers and the CEO of Safe Work Australia.

The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities is also committed to cross-jurisdictional harmonisation. It has representatives from each of the peak bodies responsible for the regulation and administration of occupational health and safety in Australia and New Zealand and undertakes compliance campaigns targeted at specific hazards within industries that have been identified as national priority area.

How was the model Act developed?

After Victoria and other states and territories and the Commonwealth committed to developing model laws in July 2008, a comprehensive review of work health and safety laws across Australia was undertaken. As a result of this review, a draft Act was developed by the Safe Work Australia Members Group and, following public consultation, endorsed in December 2009.

Victoria has played a key role in what the Act looks like, which will make moving to the new laws easier for Victorian employers and workers.

What are the benefits of model laws for workers?

For workers, it will mean the same rights, entitlements and protection across Australia regardless of where you work.

Under the model Act, all trained health and safety representatives will be able to issue provisional improvement notices (PINs) and direct others to stop unsafe work. Several new provisions are similar to Victoria's current laws, for example sentencing options for work health and safety offences, and authorised union right of entry to assist in the resolution of work health and safety issues.

What are the benefits of model laws for businesses?

Victorian businesses that operate across state and territory borders will be subject to the same laws in each jurisdiction. A uniform approach to interpretation and enforcement of those laws will also bring about a greater level of certainty and reduced costs to individual businesses and the economy.

Will the model laws replace Victoria's current health and safety laws?

Yes, the model Work Health and Safety Act, which has already been finalised, will replace Victoria'sOccupational Health and Safety Act 2004 as of 1 January 2012.

Once the model Regulations are finalised they will be introduced in all states, territories, and the Commonwealth, replacing our local Regulations.

The national Codes of Practice will also gradually replace Victoria's Compliance Codes.

What's changing under the new system?

The harmonised legislation will be similar to Victoria’s existing OHS Act 2004. So if your business is compliant with Victorian law, you are well placed to comply under the new system.

It’s still important to find out your duties under the new act. For more information on changes to employer and workers duties, HSRs, Penalties and Inspector powers, download What's changing in Victoria

When will the new laws come into effect?

Victoria will enact the model Act and Regulations on 1 January 2012.

Where can I get a copy of the model Act?

The Act is available on the Safe Work Australia website. The current version of the Act was approved by Safe Work Australia on 29 April 2010.

What are the model Work Health and Safety Regulations?

The Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations include information on how particular sections of the model Work Health and Safety Act are to be implemented.

The Regulations will include provisions on:

  • Representation and participation
  • General workplace management
  • Hazardous work
  • Plant and structures
  • Construction work
  • Hazardous chemicals, including lead and asbestos
  • Major hazard facilities

A set of provisions related to mining are currently being developed and will undergo a period of public comment in the later half of 2011.

What are national Codes of Practice?

National Codes of Practice are practical guides for businesses and workers that contain specific advice for how compliance can be achieved in particular work activities and areas.

What topics do the priority Codes of Practice cover?

The priority Codes of Practice that have been released for public comment are:

  • How to manage work health and safety risks
  • How to consult on work health and safety
  • Managing the work environment and facilities
  • Managing noise and preventing hearing loss at work
  • Manual tasks
  • Confined spaces
  • How to prevent falls at workplaces
  • Labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals
  • Preparation of safety data sheets for chemicals
  • How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace
  • How to safety remove asbestos
  • Construction facilities

Work on Codes of Practice will continue beyond January 2012. While the complete list of topics is yet to be determined, further topics for Codes of Practice cover construction, machinery and equipment, chemicals, electrical work and other general topics such as first aid, fatigue, traffic management and vibration.

What can I do now to start preparing for the new laws?

The introduction of a new health and safety framework is the perfect time for you to review your safety systems and ensure workplace health and safety is a high priority at your work.

There are a few steps that you can take now to start preparing for the new laws, for more information download the ‘What you can do now’ factsheet.

WorkSafe will run information seminars on the new WHS system during WorkSafe week, 17-21 October 2011. Register your interest now.

WorkSafe will continue to upload information and guidance to our website in the coming months to ensure Victorians stay fully informed before the change to new work health and safety laws on 1 January 2012.

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