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Work health and safety regulatory framework

Comcare administers the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (WHS Regulations) in the Commonwealth jurisdiction.
Our regulatory activities include:

  • Managing compliance and enforcement activities under the WHS Act.
  • Promoting prevention as the primary means of reducing the human and financial costs of injury and disease, as well as identifying and targeting priorities and evaluating results.
  • Developing and administering safety policy aimed at improving the regulatory framework to make sure it provides strong accountability, reflects risks and is outcome based.

Comcare’s Regulation Policy describes our regulatory approach to enhancing the health, safety and welfare of workers through education, assurance and enforcement.

Work Health and Safety Act

The WHS Act provides a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.
The WHS Act defines:

  • duty holders and their general duties
  • workplace arrangements including health and safety management arrangements, health and safety committees, work groups, as well as health and safety representatives
  • the role of Comcare investigators in determining compliance with the Act and regulations.

The WHS Act is supported by a framework of legislative instruments (regulations and approved Codes of Practice) that prescribe duties and provide guidance to employers and others on how to meet the requirements of the legislation.

Work Health and Safety Regulations

The WHS Regulations impose mandatory requirements for duty holders to comply with when managing work health and safety.
The regulations cover:

  • the health and safety representative election process
  • investigators and statutory notices
  • details about incident notification
  • exemptions
  • detailed information about the duties in relation to high risk areas such as construction work and hazardous chemicals.

The regulatory framework in practice

The WHS regulatory framework eliminates risks to health and safety as far as reasonably practicable, by assigning general duties to those who are in a position to control the origin of risk. The duties specify broad obligations to ensure the health and safety of workers and other people present at, or near, a workplace.

Risk management is an important consideration in determining whether a general duty (qualified by reasonably practical) has been complied with. As a general principle, if reasonably practicable steps were available to a duty holder and these would have reduced the risk of a foreseeable incident, and such steps were not taken, the general duty may have been breached.

Essentially, a duty holder must weigh up prevention and control measures against a degree of risk when making decisions about how to respond.

The table below outlines the main points for duty holders to consider when applying WHS legislation and managing risks.

Act and RegulationsIf a relevant requirement in the Act or Regulations exists, you must follow the relevant requirements.
Approved codes of practiceFollowing an approved code of practice may achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act and Regulations, however compliance may be achieved by following another method if it provides an equivalent or higher standard of health and safety.
Comcare guidance/other guidanceIf no Commonwealth regulation or approved code exists, you can refer to relevant guidance produced by Comcare or any other reliable source, as well as conducting your own risk assessments.

Contact

For more information, please contact Comcare's WHS Helpdesk on 1300 366 979 or email WHS.help@comcare.gov.au

Page last updated: 05 Apr 2016