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Updates to Model WHS Laws in Australia

Australian employers must take the lead in managing employees’ mental health. With the recent updates to the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws from Safe Work Australia, employers have a responsibility to protect their workers from any psychological risks and hazards.

Safe Work Australia Chief Executive Officer Michelle Baxter said that “under work health and safety laws, [any Persons Conducting a Business Undertaking] (PCBUs) have a positive duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent exposure to psychosocial hazards and risks.

Psychosocial hazards are anything at work that may cause psychological harm.”

“They can come from the way work is designed and managed, the working environment, or behaviors including bullying, harassment, discrimination, aggression and violence.”

Ms Baxter said work-related psychological injuries and illness have a significant negative impact on workers, their families and businesses.

“On average, work-related psychological injuries have longer recovery times, higher costs, and require more time away from work when compared with physical injuries.

“Workers’ compensation claims for psychological injury and illness have increased and impose high costs to employers through time off and workers’ compensation costs.

“Managing psychosocial risks protects workers, decreases staff turnover and absenteeism, and may improve broader organizational performance and productivity.”

What is the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Law?

Safe Work Australia has developed a code of practice and legislation called the Model WHS Act. Employers in Australia must comply with the Act to ensure the health and safety of their workers.

The main objective of the Act is to provide a balanced and nationally consistent framework to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces.

What do the changes to model WHS laws mean for employers? 

Ministers responsible for work health and safety (WHS) from the Commonwealth and each state and territory met in May 2021 and have implemented 20 of the 34 recommendations to the Model WHS laws made by Marie Boland in her review of the 2018 laws.

As the new amendments have defined psychosocial hazard and psychosocial risk, employers must focus on psychological risk in the workplace. Going beyond bullying and harassment, employers need to evaluate working environments, how the work is undertaken and manage interactions and behaviors in the workplace.

What is Safe Work Australia?

Safe Work Australia is a national body which develops policies in relation to national workplace and health safety issues. Each state also has their own workplace and health standards, advised by Safe Work Australia.

Breaching these laws can result in serious penalties including hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for the Persons Conducting a Business Undertaking (PCBU).

As each state is responsible for accepting or rejecting the proposed amendments, employers must monitor the changes in the state(s) where their business operates.

A full detailed list of the amendments to the laws can be found here.

How do you achieve compliance to these changes?

SAI360 is able to ensure your Environment Health Safety (EHS) regulatory compliance via our Obligation Management and Audit Modules. Our Audit module assists with measuring safety performance, tracking non-conformances and driving compliance. The Obligations Management module automates and simplifies compliance with regulations and internal policies to ensure compliance to ultimately avoid fines and penalties.

Ask us how SAI360’s EHS&S solutions can support your organization.

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