Safety at work should be your number one priority. While this may at times seem costly and time-consuming, non-compliance can result hefty penalties and in some cases imprisonment. Complying with your obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) can also add value to your business, helping you to attract and retain valuable skilled staff.
WHS or OHS – What’s the difference?
In the past, Australian workplace health and safety (WHS) laws were known as occupational health and safety (OHS) laws. These laws differed across Australian states and territories.
To make the laws more consistent across Australia, in 2011, Safe Work Australia developed a single set of WHS laws to be implemented across Australia. These laws are knows as the Model WHS Act (WHS Act).
Your obligations under the WHS Act:
The WHS Act aims to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work, including:
- Protecting the health and safety of workers and other people by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work or workplaces;
- Ensuring fair and effective representation, consultation and cooperation to address and resolve health and safety issues in the workplace;
- Encouraging unions and employer organisations to take a constructive role in improving work health and safety practices;
- Assisting businesses and workers to achieve a healthier and safer working environment;
- Promoting information, education and training on work health and safety;
- Providing effective compliance and enforcement measures; and
- Delivering continuous improvement and progressively higher standards of work health and safety.
Under the WHS Act, Australian businesses and Officers of the business must:
- Provide safe work premises;
- Assess risks and implement appropriate measures for controlling such risks;
- Ensure safe use and handling of goods and substances;
- Provide and maintain safe machinery and materials;
- Assess workplace layout and provide safe systems of work;
- Provide a suitable working environment and facilities; and
- Have insurance and workers compensation workers’ compensation insurance.
What are the penalties?
The aim of the WHS Act is to implement model work health and safety laws across Australia. Subject to some minor variations, the WHS Act has been implemented in all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia.
With the exception of Victoria and Western Australia, the following penalties apply at present:
|Category||Corporation||Individual PCBUs / Officers||Individual Workers or others|
|Category 1||$3 million||$600,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment||$300,000 and/or 5 years imprisonment|
|Category 2||$1.5 million||$300,000||$150,000|
In Victoria, the following penalties apply at present:
- for corporations: $3,171,400, and
- for individuals: $285,426.
The Victorian legislation also provides for the offence of “reckless endangerment” for where a person recklessly engages in conduct that places or may place another person who is at a workplace in danger of serious injury. An individual found guilty of this offence may face imprisonment of up to five years in addition to the above penalties.
While in Western Australia, the following penalties apply at present:
|Level||Corporation||Individual PCBUs / Officers||Individual Workers or others|
|Level 1||First Offence:
|Level 2||First Offence:
|Level 3||First Offence:
|Level 4||First Offence:
– $250,000 and 2 years imprisonment
– $312,500 and 2 years imprisonment