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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Work Health And Safety (WHS) Laws (Vic)


Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) laws are designed to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at work. WHS  in Victoria is governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.

Aims of WHS laws

The Act aims to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces in many ways. These include:

  • eliminating risks to the health, safety and welfare of employee and others at a workplace;
  • ensuring the health and safety of members of the public is not placed at risk by employers;
  • providing for employees, employers and representative organisations to be involved in forming and implementing health, safety and welfare standards.

WHS duties

An employer must ensure a workplace that is safe and without risks to health, so far as this is reasonably practicable. This duty of care includes:

  • providing and maintaining safe equipment and systems of work;
  • arranging for the safe use, handling, storage and transport of equipment or substances;
  • maintain each workplace in a condition that is safe and without risks to health;
  • provide adequate facilities for the welfare of workers;
  • provide information, training, instruction and supervision needed to protect the health and safety of workers;
  • monitor worker health and workplace conditions to prevent illness or injury to workers;
  • provide information about health and safety at the workplace, including key WHS contacts;
  • keep information and records about the health and safety of workers;
  • employ or engage WHS experts to provide advice to them about the health and safety of employees.

In deciding what is “reasonably practicable”, factors to be considered include:

  • the likelihood of the particular hazard or risk eventuating;
  • the degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk eventuated;
  • what the person involved knows, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk and any ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk;
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the risk;
  • the cost of eliminating the hazard or risk.

Employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety. They also must ensure their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others. They must comply with reasonable instructions given by the business to comply with WHS laws, and co-operate with any reasonable WHS policy or procedure at their workplace. They must not intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided for WHS purposes.

Duties also apply to other people involved in the business, such as those who design, build, import, supply or install equipment to the business.

Regulation

The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 sets out the requirements for specific hazards and risks, such as noise, machinery and manual handling. There are also Codes of Practice for specific work practices such as demolition, excavation, removing asbestos and working with molten metal.

WorkSafe Victoria

WorkSafe Victoria is the WHS regulator for the state, administering acts and regulations related to WHS. These include the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013, Accident Compensation Act 1985, Workers Compensation Act 1958, Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994, and Dangerous Goods Act 1985.

This agency offers advice, provides licensing and registration for potentially dangerous work, investigates workplace incidents, and manages the state’s workers’ compensation scheme.

Offences

If an employer fails in any of their duties to provide a workplace that is safe and without risks to health, so far as this is reasonably practicable, they are liable for a fine of 1800 penalty units ($297,396). A business is liable to a fine of 9000 penalty units ($1,486,980). The same penalty applies if an employer, through work, risks the health and safety of anyone other than an employee.

If an employer fails to monitor worker health and workplace conditions, and provide information about health and safety at the workplace to employees, they face a fine of 240 penalty units ($39,652.80). A business is liable to a fine of 1200 penalty units ($198,264).

If an employer fails to keep information and records about the health and safety of workers; and employ or engage WHS experts to provide advice to them, they face a fine of 60 penalty units ($9913.20). A business is liable to a fine of 300 penalty units ($49,566).

If an employee breaches any of their duties, they face a fine of 1800 penalty units ($297,396). If a designer, builder, importer, supplier or installer breaches any of their duties, the same penalty generally applies, but increases to 9000 penalty units ($1,486,980) for a business.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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