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The WHS Act

Comcare administers the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (WHS Regulations) in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. The WHS Act and WHS Regulations implement model work health and safety laws that have also been adopted in most of the Australian states and territories.

The WHS Act and WHS Regulations provide a framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces by protecting workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination of risks arising from work, in accordance with the principle that workers and other persons should be given the highest level of protection against harm to their health, safety and welfare from hazards and risks arising from work as is reasonably practicable. The WHS Act and WHS Regulations promote continuous improvement and progressively higher standards of work health and safety.

The WHS Act requires that a person who conducts a business or undertaking (PCBU) ensures the health and safety of workers engaged by the PCBU while the workers are at work in the business or undertaking, so far as is reasonably practicable. The PCBU is required to manage risks by:

  • eliminating risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable
  • if elimination is not reasonably practicable, minimising the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

The WHS Act imposes other duties on PCBUs and other persons in relation to workers and workplaces.

The WHS Act also provides for consultation, representation and participation to further the objects of the Act. This includes workplace arrangements like work groups, health and safety representatives and health and safety committees.

The WHS Regulations

The WHS Regulations make more detailed provision for topics covered by the WHS Act. This includes providing more specific obligations and prohibitions for certain types of work. In some cases, a person can seek an exemption from requirements imposed by the WHS Regulations.

The WHS Regulations also set out the detailed requirements for obtaining authorisations, such as licences and registrations.

Codes of Practice

Codes of practice can be approved under the WHS Act. They are practical guides to achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the WHS Act and the WHS Regulations.

An approved code of practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code. In most cases, following an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act, in relation to the subject matter of the code.

An approved code of practice is admissible in court proceedings. Courts may regard an approved code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code in determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code relates.

Comcare’s role

Comcare’s functions as regulator under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations include:

  • to monitor and enforce compliance with the legislation
  • to provide advice and information on work health and safety to duty holders and to the community
  • to promote and support education and training on matters relating to work health and safety.

See Our compliance and enforcement activities for information about Comcare’s approach to performing our functions under the WHS Act and WHS Regulations.

Page last updated: 30 Jun 2016