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Workplace Health and Safety Management System (WHSMS)

A workplace health and safety management system (WHSMS) can be thought of as a particular, organisational wide approach, instituted by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), in order to minimise the risk of injury and illness arising from the conduct of their undertaking.

Establishing a systems-based approach to workplace health and safety may assist a PCBU address their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act); through the identification and assessment of workplace risks and whether the necessary organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures are in place to limit their impact.

Broadly, a WHSMS provides a focus on improving safety performance through a systematic approach integrating WHS planning, implementation and review. However, a WHSMS is not simply the existence of forms, processes or policies that outlines the various safety aspects considered important by the organisation. Rather, a WHSMS must give effect to the content of that safety documentation in an ongoing and managed way that reduces risk and improves organisational safety outcomes.

A WHSMS is then taken to mean an evolving or continuously improving system which uses feedback to manage and improve safety related outcomes; it builds on existing health and safety processes, integrates with other management systems, provides for more informed decision making, strengthens corporate culture and demonstrates due diligence.

A system which relies only on documenting procedures and does not provide mechanisms for ensuring safety performance criteria are identified and achieved is significantly less effective in protecting people from harm.

What do I need to consider?

There are two Australian Standards relating to the design, implementation and on-going maintenance of generic WHSMS:

  • AS/NZS 4801:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems—Specification with guidance for use, and
  • AS/NZS 4804:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems—General guidelines on principles, systems and supporting techniques.

AS 4801:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems defines an OHSMS, where we now refer to these as work health and safety management systems (WHSMS), as part of the overall management system, which includes; organisational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing and maintaining the OHS [WHS] policy, and so managing the OHS [WHS] Risks associated with the business of the organisation.

AS4804:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems provides more general guidance concerning principles, systems and supporting techniques including:

  • How to set up an OHSMS [WHSMS]
  • How to continually improve an OHSMS [WHSMS], and
  • Resources required for set up and improvement.

As with a number of Australian Standards dealing with Management systems, AS/NZS 4801 and 4804 are closely aligned with the relevant international standards, ISO 9000 series, dealing with similar issues.


"Every organisation will find that it has elements of an OHSMS in place. What is less common is the linking of these elements into a coordinated overall system to improve the OHS performance.

A useful starting point is to compare the basic intent of each element in these Guidelines with the management practices and procedures that are currently being used in the organisation." [1]

So what might a WHSMS look like? Briefly, a sound WHSMS should be risk focused, fit for purpose, improved through learning and review and which is sensitive to human factors and behaviour. Evidence of this might include:

  • a visible involvement and commitment from senior management,
  • proof that health and safety policies and procedures have been implemented,
  • clearly assigned responsibilities and monitoring of performance at the various management levels,
  • specific program elements that include the identification and monitoring of hazards and emerging risk, including robust worker consultative arrangements as an essential element,
  • reporting, investigation of incidents and ongoing workplace inspections,
  • the collection and analysis of data in order to assist the prevention effort,
  • the availability of targeted health and safety training relevant to the undertaking,
  • consideration of health and safety aspects in the design of work and throughout the product or service lifecycle including through purchasing arrangements,
  • first aid arrangements and health monitoring appropriate to the health risks at the workplace, emergency management and response procedures in place, and
  • a continuing mechanism for WHSMS monitoring and evaluation.


Information SourceContents
AS/NZS 4801:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems–Specification with guidance for use The objective of this standard is to set auditable criteria for a safety management system
AS/NZS 4804:2001 Occupational health and safety management systems–General guidelines on principles, systems and supporting techniques The objective of this standard is to provide guidance on set up, resources required and continuous improvement of a safety management system
Work Health and Safety Management Systems: A Snapshot [PDF,545KB] Provides a general overview of a work health and safety management system as an integral part of an organization's broader management system
WHS barriers and remedies [PDF,169KB] A checklist of likely barriers affecting healthy and safe work and some suggested remedies
National Audit Tool [PDF,323.8KB] The national audit tool provides a review of the elements that are considered during a WHSMS audit

[1] AS/NZS 4804: Occupational health and safety management systems-General guidelines on principles, systems and supporting techniques, 2001, p 8.

Page last updated: 30 Jul 2019