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When you hear the words ‘work health and safety’ what thoughts, sounds, emotions and images appear in your mind? Workers in hardhats and orange vests? Sirens? Paperwork? Confusion? Hazardous chemicals? Warning signs? No time?
Just thinking about WHS responsibilities can be enough to trigger a splitting headache for many small business owners, but truthfully work health and safety laws don’t need to be complicated, scary or overwhelming. Looked at as a tool for keeping people safe and improving business practices, they can actually be turned into a positive business opportunity.
Today’s blog is a quick introduction to safety legislation in Australia — how to identify the laws that apply to your business and what they mean for you as a small business owner, operator, or manager. Gaining an understanding of your responsibilities can ease your stress and set you on a path to better business management and work practices.
First let’s look at the overall structure of safety laws in our country. Every business in Australia must comply with the work health and safety laws in their home state or territory — and if your business operates in multiple regions you’ll need to comply with all of them.
Each Australian state (and territory) has it’s own WHS laws, but they are all based on Model legislation developed and issued by the federal government body Safe Work Australia. Some states (like NSW) have adopted the Model WHS legislation exactly as it was written, while other states (like Victoria) follow the guiding principles but still have their own specific requirements.
WHS stands for work health and safety, but in some states it is known as OHS, occupational health and safety, but no matter where your business is based you can expect your state to have the following:
Now we’ll take a deeper dive into each area of the WHS laws and briefly discuss how they could apply to your small business.
The WHS Act in your home state (or territory) is the foundation of all WHS legislation and sets out the responsibilities of anyone who owns or interacts with a workplace. Your basic responsibilities as a business owner include:
But the WHS Act doesn’t just apply to business owners, it also includes requirements for manufacturers and suppliers (ensuring equipment supplied to a workplace is safe to use), workers (follow safety instructions and procedures), self-employed people (ensure their own health safety), directors and office holders (manage corporate safety risk).
Each state (and territory) has a set of WHS Regulations that mandates specific ways for business owners to meet the requirements of the WHS Act. The Regulations will outline what you have to do (eg, provide first aid equipment) and the penalties for non-compliance (eg, $6,000 for individuals, $30,000 for corporations).
Some of the basic obligations of small business owners include:
One of the reasons small business owners can feel overwhelmed by work health and safety compliance is because there is no single piece of legislation or guidance material to follow. Depending on your home state (or territory) you may also have supplementary legislation to comply with:
All Australian states (and territories) have established Codes of Practice that help business owners address specific hazards and WHS responsibilities. Examples include:
As a small business owner you don’t need to start downloading all these WHS laws and spend your nights and weekends pouring over them. You could get started by:
You must meet your WHS responsibilities and you can’t transfer the obligation to another person. There are no acceptable excuses for non-compliance, and the following claims will NOT excuse you from your legal obligations:
I hope my short blog has given you a better understanding of how WHS legislation applies to your small business. Would you like some help? My area of expertise is in WHS writing, compliance and training development — I can certainly help your business meet WHS responsibilities by:
Fill out the quick contact form and I’m usually in touch within a few hours. Remember, WHS compliance doesn’t need to be complicated — are you ready for the next step?
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