When it comes to work health and safety (WHS) policies, it can feel like there is a never-ending list of policies businesses need to have in place. And then on top of policies, you also have procedures, templates, forms, training requirements, and systems….

As a business owner, you may be wondering “What do I really need?”

WHS policies and procedures all form your “safety management system”. Whether or not this is formal or informal. The way a business sets up its safety system should be directly linked to that specific business, considering its size, culture, resources, operational facilities, workforce activities, risks, and compliance requirements that may exist alongside the state legislation (e.g. if any Australian Standards or Guidelines also apply).

Rather than just putting in place all the policies you are told to have or coming in a pack you can purchase online, it makes sense to work out what is always necessary, then what is relevant to also have for your specific business.


Do I legally need them?

This is where you could argue that no, there is no specific legislation that states a business must implement XYZ policies. However! What the legislation (WHS Act) does say is that businesses must ensure the safety and welfare of employees and others in the workplace, and provide safe systems of work, safe equipment, and materials and training.

So, therefore, businesses need a way to demonstrate their understanding and commitment to compliance with the WHS laws and to employee safety. They need a way to state how they’ll do the things they need to do.

How can this be done? The answer is firstly by actions (doing the things that need to be done!), and secondly, by having documented policies and procedures.

Additionally, there are other reasons why policies are required, ranging from tender processes, providing clarity and consistency to employees, to evidencing organisational practices in court or to a regulator, insurer or investigator.


Standard WHS Policies every business should have

No matter what business you are operating, there are a common set of WHS policies that should exist. This includes:

  • WHS Policy

Stating the organisation’s commitment to compliance with the laws and to employee safety at work. Put simply, it contains the overarching statements about how safety will be managed, and what responsibilities both the company/managers and employees have in relation to WHS.

  • Risk Management

Outlines the process for identifying, assessing and managing risks, including descriptions of what tools may be used (risk assessment form, safe work method statement etc) and how the risks will be controlled (using the hierarchy of controls).

  • Incident Response, Reporting, and Investigation

Describing what happens when there is an injury or incident, including mandatory reporting procedures.

  • Emergency Management

Documented process for how emergencies will be planned for and responded to. If the organisation is aligned with the Australian Standard 3745-2010 Planning for Emergencies in Facilities, there are specific details to be included, such as setting up an Emergency Planning Committee where required.

  • First Aid

While this may not be mandatory or required in every organisation, it is a good policy to have that describes how the organisation will implement first aid facilities, equipment and trained first aid officers.

  • WHS Consultation

A policy describing how the organisation will talk with its employees on WHS matters. If there have been agreements made on specific consultation procedures, they should be listed here (e.g. a Health and Safety Committee, Representatives etc).

  • Fitness for Work

A description of expectations for employees to be fit for duty, what the organisation will do to support health and wellbeing, and how the organisation will manage non-work related health matters.

  • Return to Work Policy

Information on how the organisation manages work-related injuries and workers’ compensation procedures (injury management). This should be written in alignment with the relevant state requirements as workers’ compensation processes vary slightly from state to state. For example, in NSW, employers are required to write their policy in line with the SIRA Guidelines for workplace RTW programs.

  • Anti-Discrimination and Harassment (including Sexual Harassment)

A traditional HR policy should be considered in a WHS context too.

In every policy, there should be a list of responsibilities for managers and employees to follow, this gives the policy meaning and clarifies any uncertainty about who does what.


If I put these in place am I covered?

Not necessarily. Your business may need additional policies or procedures based on what you do. For example, if you manufacture or handle hazardous chemicals, you’d need a Hazardous Chemicals Policy, similarly, if you have a business where your employees are required to work or travel alone, you may need a Remote and Isolated Work Policy.

If your business wishes to implement a safety management system in alignment with ISO 45001:2018 OHS Management Systems – Guidance for Use, there are a further set of required documents that would need to be included in your framework.

Once you have policies in place, the key thing is that you deliver on what you have committed to. So your business starts to undertake the actions and activities listed in those documents.



Essential policies are ones which are required by law (so to speak) that clearly respond to specific legal requirements relating to WHS, such as risk management.

Meaningful policies are those which have been written and implemented to reflect the actual organisational needs and goals. Unnecessary and confusing policies will become a risk to your organisation and employees. Having a policy in place that’s not followed or actioned with can lead to non-compliance issues in audits and investigations.

It is worthwhile seeking support from a WHS professional if you are unsure on what policies and procedures your business needs, and also gaining advice on how they should be written to reflect your business and its unique requirements.


About Employment Innovations

Employment Innovations is one of Australia’s leading providers of employment services designed to increase productivity and ensure compliance. Its services and solutions include all the tools that every Australian small to medium sized employer needs – including workplace advice, legal services, payroll solutions, migration, human resource management and HR software.



The information provided in these blog articles is general in nature and is not intended to substitute for professional advice. If you are unsure about how this information applies to your specific situation we recommend you contact Employment Innovations for advice.