The Work Health and Safety Act (WHS Act) is being passed
progressively in all jurisdictions, commencing from as early as 1
There will be many changes for departments and agencies to
understand and meet, particularly in the commonwealth public
sector. the most significant of these changes include:
a clear duty to protect the health and safety of all who work
for the organisation, whether as employees, contractors, students
on work experience, or volunteers
a positive duty on officers to exercise due diligence (as
defined in the WHs act) to ensure compliance by the
a duty to consult, co-operate and co-ordinate activities with
all others who have a duty over the same matter (eg, in relation to
changes to worker representation and union right of entry,
changes to the role of the regulator, adopting an approach of
graduated enforcement starting with giving advice and guidance on
how to comply with the law.
Our oHss team has been working with many commonwealth and state
departments and agencies to identify what the changes will require
them to do and assisting them to put in place the necessary
changes. Many in both the public and private sectors have, however,
been waiting for greater clarity in regulations and codes of
practice before taking action. for those who have been waiting,
there is a need for immediate action.
The key to taking action is to understand:
what the law will require
who the officers of the organisation are
the readiness of the organisation to meet the requirements,
what must be done to address identified gaps.
This starts with executive workshops (at ses and director level)
providing information on the implications of the new laws. the next
step is commonly commissioning a review of governance and
operational structures and policies and activities of the
organisation, identifying the current status and measures to
address deficiencies and providing for improved capability and
performance. these reviews should determine not only what the
documented systems provide, but also the level of compliance with
those systems and opportunities for formalisation of ad hoc
processes. a review should include input from legal and subject
matter experts, working with internal stakeholders.
We have found that the area in need of greatest attention in the
public sector is that of corporate governance.
Compliance with the elements of due diligence as defined
requires active involvement of the leadership team through detailed
advice, reports and decision-making on key health and safety
matters. We have found that the governance structure and processes,
as applied to health and safety, often do not allow for that to
occur. Having competent safety professionals performing diligently
at an operational level is not enough.
Consultation and co-ordination with other duty holders is
another area commonly in need of additional policies and
procedures. this is not just in engaging effectively with
contractors. a good deal of work in the public sector takes place
in workplaces under the management or control of others and
consultation and co-operation must occur with them. proper
communication should take place with designers and suppliers,
through appropriate procurement policies.
Consultation with employees is a necessary part of the
development and modification of systems to provide for compliance
with the new laws, and to ensure properly informed outcomes while
meeting legal obligations to consult. revised and new policies then
need to be implemented with appropriate training, review and
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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