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Frequently asked questions Why do we need model work health and safety laws?

Frequently asked questions

Why do we need model work health and safety laws?

Source: Safe Work Australia

The Commonwealth and each state and territory government have agreed to harmonise their work health and safety laws, including Regulations and Codes of Practice, so that they are similar in each jurisdiction.

The Commonwealth, states and territories are responsible for making and enforcing their own work health and safety laws. Although there are many similarities between the laws there are also some differences that can cause confusion. Australian workers should be entitled to the same work health and safety standards, regardless of the jurisdiction in which they operate.

This regulatory inconsistency is being addressed through an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) where, for the first time, governments from each state and territory and the Commonwealth have formally committed to harmonise work health and safety laws by developing and adopting a model Work Health and Safety Act supported by model Regulations and model Codes of Practice. The intention is to deliver the same work health and safety protections to all Australians.

How are work health and safety laws being harmonised?

Safe Work Australia is responsible for developing model work health and safety laws. Safe Work Australia is an independent statutory body established on 1 November 2009, under the Safe Work Australia Act 2008. Its primary function is to progress the model work health and safety laws in partnership with state and territory governments, employers and workers, who are represented as Safe Work Australia Members.

Each jurisdiction will go through the process of enacting legislation based on the model laws. The intention is to have mirror laws enacted in each jurisdiction. Minor but necessary variations may be made consistent with relevant drafting protocols and to achieve consistency with other laws and processes operating within a jurisdiction.

When will the changes come into effect?

The Commonwealth and each state and territory will be required to enact laws that reflect the model work health and safety laws by the end of December 2011. It is expected that all laws will commence on 1 January 2012.

Model Codes of Practice will be developed and implemented at the same time as the model WHS Regulations. However, development and implementation of further model Codes of Practice will continue beyond December 2011.

How was the model WHS Act developed?

The model WHS Act is the result of a comprehensive national review into work health and safety laws across Australia, which involved substantial public consultation.

The first draft of the model WHS Act was based on the decisions of the Workplace Relations Ministers' Council (WRMC) in relation to the national review findings. The WRMC's decisions are published here.

The first draft of the model WHS Act was released for public comment for six weeks in September 2009. The 480 submissions received during this period informed many of the amendments to the first draft. The amended draft was endorsed by WRMC in December 2009.

Where can I find the current version of the model WHS Act?

WRMC authorised Safe Work Australia to make final technical and drafting amendments to ensure that the model WHS Act operates as intended. The current version of the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act incorporates technical amendments made since November 2010.

Model Work Health and Safety Act - revised 23 June 2011

What transitional arrangements will be put in place?

Appropriate transitional arrangements will be put in place in each jurisdiction.

All jurisdictions have agreed to a set of principles which will ensure that transitional arrangements are consistent across Australia, although some variations are inevitable as each jurisdiction will be transitioning from a different work health and safety system.

View contact details for state and territory work health and safety authorities.

Will there be a national regulator?

No, the Commonwealth and each state and territory will continue to regulate the administration of laws in their jurisdiction.

Will there be consistent approach to enforcing the work health and safety laws?

Under the IGA, Safe Work Australia is also responsible for developing a national compliance and enforcement policy to complement the harmonised work health and safety laws. The policy aims to ensure that work health and safety regulators take a nationally consistent approach to compliance and enforcement. The policy will include the criteria which will be used to guide enforcement decision making and outline the circumstances in which the regulator may use specific enforcement tools that are mandated under the model Work Health and Safety Act.

The National Compliance and Enforcement Policy will be submitted to WRMC for approval in August 2011 and will be published on Safe Work Australia's website.

How are the model WHS Regulations and model Codes of Practice being developed?

Safe Work Australia established a Strategic Issues Group on Occupational Health and Safety (SIG-OHS) to develop the model WHS Regulations based on a three stage process as outlined in the IGA. Stage one involved the development of regulations covering those areas currently regulated in all jurisdictions. Stage two included consideration of matters included in some, but not all, jurisdictions. Stage three involved identifying those matters requiring considerable policy development.

The SIG-OHS consists of representatives from each state, territory and the Commonwealth, as well as representatives from employer and union organisations. The draft model WHS Regulations and first stage Codes of Practice were released for public comment in December 2010. The public comment period closed on 4 April 2011.

Safe Work Australia received a total of 1343 submissions. The model WHS Regulations and first stage Codes of Practice have been amended taking into account public comment and following further consideration by the SIG-OHS members, Safe Work Australia members and the Parliamentary Counsels' Committee.

The model WHS Regulations and first stage Codes of Practice will be submitted to WRMC for approval in August 2011.

Mining public comment

When will the next public consultation process happen?

To support the model Work Health and Safety Act, Safe Work Australia in conjunction with the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF), recently released a range of mining documents for public comment. The draft model Work Health and Safety Regulations, model Codes of Practice and an Issues Paper for mining are available here.

There will be two closing dates for the mining public comment process:

  • Comments on the draft model WHS Regulations and the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement must be submitted by 9 September 2011.
  • Comments on the draft model Codes of Practice must be submitted by 7 October 2011.

How do I get copies of the mining documents?

The documents are available to download from the model WHS section of our website.

Some FAQs to assist you with making a submission are also available here.

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