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WHS laws are changing

Stay up to date on changes to Commonwealth work health and safety (WHS) laws.

Latest changes to WHS laws

December 2023

Increased penalties for offences under the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) came into effect on 15 December 2023. The new amounts, and a range of other measures, are included in the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Act 2023 that passed parliament earlier that month.

The changes increase penalties for the first time since the WHS Act came into effect, and provide for the amounts to be indexed to the Consumer Price Index for ongoing annual increases.

The legislation amends the WHS Act to include:

  • Significant increases to penalties for Category 1 offences:
    • $15 million for a body corporate or the Commonwealth (previously $3 million)
    • $3 million for a person conducting a business or undertaking or an officer (previously $600,00)
    • $1.5 million for any other person (previously $300,000).
  • And an increase to all other penalties in the WHS Act and WHS Regulations. For example, Category 2 and Category 3 penalties are now $2,090,000 and $700,000 respectively (previously $1.5 million and $500,000).
  • New criminal responsibility provisions for bodies corporate and the Commonwealth.

The increased penalties and indexation were key recommendations of the 2018 review of the model WHS laws and apply to both the WHS Act and Regulations.

New criminal responsibility provisions also promote accountability for bodies corporate and the Commonwealth for breaches of work health and safety duties. The changes mean that the conduct of officers, employees and agents acting within their actual or apparent authority (defined as 'authorised persons'), and/or the board of directors for a body corporate, can be attributed to a body corporate.

New sections 244A and 244B of the WHS Act also allow for aggregation of conduct. This means the same individual would not need to have engaged in the relevant conduct and also hold the relevant state of mind in order to prove an offence against a body corporate.

Further amendments include:

  • Creating a new offence of industrial manslaughter for causing a workplace death of an individual through negligent conduct or recklessness, taking effect from 1 July 2024.
  • Establishing a Family and Injured Workers Advisory Committee by the end of 2024 to advise the Minister and Comcare on the support needs of those affected by a serious workplace incident and help inform on relevant Comcare policies, practices and strategies.

More information

September 2023

In March 2023, a bill containing a suite of amendments to the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 passed the Australian Parliament.

The changes under the Work Health and Safety Amendment Act 2022 came into effect on 21 September 2023 and include:

  • Broadening the Category 1 offence to include negligence as a fault element
  • Prohibiting insurance coverage for monetary penalties
  • Enhancing inspector powers
  • Extending the deadline for a person to request a prosecution, and strengthening requirements for Comcare to provide progress updates
  • Allowing Health and Safety Representatives to choose their own Comcare-approved training course

The amendments implement recommendations of the 2018 review of the Model WHS Laws which looked at how the legislation was operating in practice.

This follows changes to the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 in April 2023 which prescribe how employers must identify and manage hazards and risks to workers’ psychological health and safety.

More information

Changes to psychosocial regulations

April 2023

In April 2023, important changes to Commonwealth work health and safety laws came into place.

For the first time, the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 prescribe how employers must identify and manage hazards and risks to workers’ psychological health and safety.

The amended Work Health and Safety Regulations prescribe how duty holders must identify and manage hazards and risks to workers’ psychological health and safety.

Organisations need to consider and review approaches to managing psychosocial risks and fostering mentally healthy workplaces. This includes engaging and consulting with workers.

Comcare has guidance on psychosocial hazards, and a range of education products for psychological health and safety, available through our Learning Management System. New education products including webinars continue to be developed.

There is also a dedicated unit within our WHS inspectorate to focus on regulation of psychosocial hazards and associated risks.

More information

Case studies

We have developed a suite of case studies based on Comcare regulatory activity in response to incidents involving psychosocial hazards and risks at workplaces in the Commonwealth jurisdiction, intended as an education resource to provide you with examples of hazards and risks and how they can be managed.

Why this is important

It is important you understand the changes to the WHS laws so you can update your risk assessments and control frameworks and ensure that your organisation complies with the updated legislation. Mentally safe, healthy and productive workplaces benefit both employers and employees, and psychosocial hazards in the workplace are real.

  • 1 in 3
    people have experienced sexual harassment at work
  • 33%
    of mental stress claims in 2020-21 related to bullying and harassment
  • 18%
    increase over the last 3 years from 2018-19 in Comcare claims related to work demands
  • 1 in 5
    Australian workers are experiencing a mental health condition

Regulatory guides

Comcare produces a range of regulatory guides to help you fulfil your duties and comply with your obligations.

From guidance on the legislative framework to your health and safety duties, we can help you understand the requirements of the new WHS laws.

See our regulatory guides

Videos and webinars

  • Video

    WHS regulations: Psychosocial hazards

    Play now
  • Webinar recording

    Approaches for a thriving workplace

    Play now
  • Webinar recording

    Psychosocial hazards and regulation

    Play now
Page last reviewed: 11 January 2024

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1300 366 979 |

Date printed 21 Apr 2024