Harmonised Health and Safety Legislation – What it means for the University

To progress nationally consistent laws, Safe Work Australia, an Australian Government tripartite agency focused on improving work health and safety arrangements across Australia, developed a model Work Health and Safety Act that could be adopted by each state, territory and the Commonwealth.

From 1 January 2013, South Australia's Work Health and Safety Legislation – which includes the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) and the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA), supported by Codes of Practice – will align with New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth.

The Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA) identify the control measures that must be applied to specific work activities and hazards, for example machine guarding and noise exposure.

The Codes of Practice provide practical information, or guidance, on how to meet the requirements of the regulations. A Code of Practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the particular Code. In most cases, following an approved Code of Practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act and assist workplaces achieve safe systems of work.

In the long term, harmonised work health and safety laws will reduce red tape and compliance costs for businesses that operate across state borders. It will also provide workers with the same protections and safety standards as well as recognising their licensing and training nationally.

Key principles

The key principles of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) are consistent with long established and familiar occupational health and safety standards. From 1 January 2013 the Act:

  • Establishes health and safety duties, including the primary duty to protect any person from exposure to hazards and risks that arise from work
  • Provides for worker representation, consultation and participation including through Health and Safety Representatives and Health and Safety Committees
  • Enables compliance and enforcement through SafeWork SA, the regulator, and
  • Provides for the creation of regulations and Codes of Practice.

Key changes that impact on the University

  • An employer is now known as a 'person conducting a business or undertaking' (PCBU) the University;
  • The removal of the Responsible Officer provision;
  • The introduction of a specific duty placed on Officers of the University (Council, Vice-Chancellor, Senior Management Group and the Audit and Risk Management Committee) to exercise due diligence to ensure that the University meets its work health and safety obligations. This approach emphasises the corporate governance responsibilities of officers and their critical role in leading the University's safety agenda;
  • Changed definition of a 'worker' who carries out work for the University (PCBU) an employee, contractor/sub-contractor, employee of a labour hire company, apprentice or trainee, a student gaining work experience, an outworker or a volunteer;
  • Broadened consultation obligations vertical and horizontal to include designers, manufacturers, suppliers, contractors and host organisations;
  • The introduction of  'Union Right of Entry' provisions, allowing a registered union official to enter a workplace to inquire into a suspected contravention of WHS laws, inspect worker records and consult with workers;
  • A capacity for the University to enter into an enforceable WHS undertaking where a breach of the legislation has occurred, instead of a prosecution;
  • A 'right to silence' to protect individuals (a natural person) from self-incrimination during investigations;
  • The 'control test' persons must eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the extent to which they have the capacity to influence and control the matter or would have that capacity but for an agreement or arrangement purporting to limit or remove that capacity.
  • A person can have more than one duty or can have concurrent duties under the Act however, they cannot 'contract out' their duties;

Refer to Roles and Responsibilities for Health and Safety.

References and resources