If you are a business owner or in a decision maker in your business, you would probably have wondered to yourself “Am I compliant when it comes to Work Health and Safety (WHS)?”
Compliance in WHS is possibly the most essential area to get right. At the core of it, it really means:
- Actively doing everything you can to make the workplace safe.
- Meeting legal requirements in relation to WHS and being able to demonstrate this if needed.
Compliance may conjure up the image of an audit tool that checks off all the essential documents you need to meet legislative requirements. You may have a beautifully designed document framework with all your policies and procedures written and available on your intranet.
If you do, fantastic! This is important. Documents do form an integral part of overall compliance to WHS laws however, true compliance does not stop at the documents.
We like to think that if you are truly “compliant” your workplace is physically and psychologically safe and healthy and teams are happy, cohesive and productive. It is more than having policies, procedures and registers in place. Real compliance translates to actions, leading by example, and applying thought and energy into all the elements of safety.
If employers are non-compliant with WHS laws, it can increase the risk of injuries and associated costs, result in employee / human resources issues such as low morale and high turnover, lead to reputational damage, work stoppages, lawsuits, penalties, fines and even the closure of the business.
Being compliant in relation to WHS duties extends to everyone within the business of course, from owners and directors to employees, contractors, volunteers and students.
What do I need to be “compliant” with?
Every workplace is different and has varying requirements. In summary, every business must comply with;
- The state Work Health and Safety Act;
- The state Work Health and Safety Regulation
In addition to the Act and Regulation, there are state-based Codes of Practice that employers should follow for best practice. While Codes of Practice are not law, they are admissible in court proceedings.
Depending on its type of operation, businesses may also need to comply with certain Australian Standards. Australian Standards are legally enforceable when they are incorporated into legislation. Certain Standards are referenced in WHS Regulations. For a comprehensive list, please see here.
The WHS Acts, Regulations, Codes of Practice, and Standards cover typical WHS requirements. But there is also the not-as-obvious legislation that employers need to follow, such as:
- The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) which in December 2022 was amended by the Anti-Discrimination and Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Respect at Work) Act 2022 (Cth) to introduce a positive duty on employers to prevent workplace sexual harassment, sex discrimination and victimization;
- In addition to this, employers must comply with other federal laws and state laws which deal with discrimination and equal employment opportunity.
While generally considered the domain of HR, the above laws also transcend work health and safety. Why? Because where there is non-compliance with these laws, the risk of both physical and psychological injuries arises, which should be considered and managed through both HR and work health and safety procedures.
Keeping a legislation register is a good way of keeping track of what laws you need to adhere to, and how you plan on doing that. Remember to update that register when laws change and review it annually.
What else should your business be doing?
Put simply – you should be turning your words into actions. Every promise and process you have written and published internally; must be actively followed.
Here are some examples of how internal compliance may be breached:
- Your WHS consultation procedure says you will be holding weekly Toolbox Talks but you only do them once a month.
- You have said you will do monthly workplace hazard inspections, but one department forgets to do them almost every month.
- Your WHS Manual says all your management meetings will have WHS as a topic, but you never put it on the agenda.
- Your Incident Investigation Policy says you will review every incident, but your leadership team never uses the correct form.
These internal breaches will demonstrate your business has a lack of understanding or compliance when it comes to WHS. Internal procedures such as those mentioned above are put in place and written in a way to ensure your business will be compliant with the law. When these are not followed, the business may be non-compliant.
Look at your existing procedures holistically, considering the psychological risks, human rights, discrimination, and employment laws, as well as WHS laws to ensure you have suitable systems in place to address all of these factors.
The key to success
We believe that these points below will contribute to success with compliance efforts:
- Leaders must always demonstrate their commitment to WHS policies by speaking proudly and respectfully about them, and following them at every opportunity
- Risk assessments, policy and procedure development must be done in consultation with employees and any employee representatives as required
- Leaders must support employees to follow policies and procedures and quickly address any non-compliance in a fair and supportive way
- Ask for assistance and appoint appropriate specialists if there is a lack of WHS expertise in the business.
Being “compliant” with WHS laws extends beyond the basics of putting documents in place. It requires action and things being put into practice. Compliance can be complicated and probably half the challenge is knowing what you need to do.
‘Officers’ of an organisation have specific duties when it comes to WHS and should be especially aware of their compliance requirements as issues may affect both the business entity, and the individual themselves in a court of law.
Even with some basic WHS understanding, a business owner or executive may not have the complete toolkit when it comes to safety, or (more likely) will lack the time to design, develop and apply the requirements to cover everything relating to WHS compliance.
To assist with meeting WHS compliance, responsible leaders will seek specialist advice in those areas where they may be lacking knowledge or time, such as seeking support from an accountant to do their finances or finding HR experts to develop employment contracts. When a business enlists specialist help in WHS it demonstrates awareness and commitment to improving the health and safety of employees.
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.