What is WHS and why is it important (in Australia)

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Kiri Align
9th March 2021

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) is a topic that many business owners like you, may believe is only relevant to certain types of companies or to employers of a minimum business size. 

Yet, the fact is that WHS is a lot more important than most people realise. In Australia, there are a wide-array of laws and regulations that have been created in order to ensure businesses are doing everything they can, to protect their employees and making sure everyone can go home safe at the end of the day.

Understanding what WHS is and why it is important would help make working environments as safe as possible for everyone involved. This blog is designed to specifically throw light on this important  topic.

Let’s get started!

What is WHS

What is WHS?

WHS Meaning : Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) refers to health and safety practices that are established and carried out in order to ultimately prevent or mitigate any injury, illness, or any kind of mishap in the workplace.

To be effective, WHS relies on 3 core objectives.

They are:

WHS Vs OHS: what is the difference?

First of all, OHS stands for Occupational Health and Safety. 

OHS and WHS are two terms widely used in Australia when we talk  about health and safety in the workplace. Often used synonymously, there is really no difference between them. 

However, here is the thing:

WHS is the new term used in describing OHS in Australia these days. A change occasioned by the harmonized WHS laws developed by Safe Work Australia in 2011. Before then, OHS laws were unique to each state.

Thus, WHS is an Australia-wide policy that provides a set of uniform guidelines to help achieve a safe workplace. The WHS Act and WHS Regulations give States and Territorial governments the legitimacy to promote health and safety laws that are consistent nationwide.

WHS legislation in Australia

It is a legal requirement in Australia to manage Workplace Health and Safety. WHS legislation is based on a harm minimisation model - where it is the role of each employer to identify risks in the workplace and implement measures to eliminate those risks to their employees.

The single set of WHS laws developed by Safe Work Australia for implementation throughout Australia are known as ‘model’ laws. That said, before these laws can be binding, they have to be ratified and adopted by the various states and territories.

The model WHS laws include:

Implementation of WHS in Australia

WHS is multi-sectoral and involves a number of professionals and professional organisations. 

The major stakeholders involved with the design, implementation, enforcement, and management of WHS in Australia are:

  1. Safe Work Australia - maintains the model WHS laws, but does not regulate or enforce them.
  1. COMCARE which is “The Commission for the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation of Commonwealth Employees” is responsible for the administration of WHS Act and Regulations which dictates the framework that insists on the safety, rehabilitation and compensation of employees working in Australia.
  1. Per the WHS laws, the PCBU (“person who conducts a business or undertaking”) is responsible for the health and safety of workers they engage while such workers are doing their bidding.
  1. Standards Association of Australia (Standards Australia) - develops uniform standards related to equipment, procedures, design, installation, terms, names, materials etc.
  1. Government department in the various states and territories - enforce and promote health and safety in work environments.
  1. Others - including Trade Unions, employee and employer associations.


Who is responsible for WHS in the workplace?

WHS has a reputation among business owners as being complex, confusing, and downright scary. This is often accompanied by an uncertainty of where the responsibility lies. 

But who exactly is responsible for workplace health and safety in Australia? Is it the employer? The employee? Or the government?

The answer:

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) is everyone’s responsibility. This includes members of the public as well.

As the name suggests, “Workplace Health and Safety” is concerned with the health and safety of workers and anyone else who may be affected by work activities or environment.

However-regardless of what kind of business you own, there are specific legal responsibilities for the implementation of WHS in the workplace as far as Australian laws are concerned. 

The following are the WHS obligations:

Employers Obligation

According to WHS laws, it is the  employer’s sole responsibility to make provisions for a safe working environment.

Responsibilities include:


Workers Obligations

Workers are also duty bound to ensure WHS laws and procedures are adhered to, at their respective workplaces. They should know that their actions can impact the effectiveness or WHS or otherwise.

In any case, workers should:

Importance of WHS?

It's no secret that workplace health and safety is important. You could find yourself in a whole heap of trouble if you put profit before your staff's wellbeing. Even worse, your company might be held responsible if an accident occurs in the workplace. 

But why exactly is WHS so important? Well, you will  find out below…

WHS promotes and works to ensure the prevention of accidents and other incidents at a work environment. By so doing, employers and even employees can get the most out of their time and effort. In other words, WHS is important because it saves time and improves productivity.

Additionally, a properly implemented WHS program also saves the employer money that would otherwise be used in  dealing with accidents, paying compensation and footing rehabilitation bills. 

Hundreds of work-related deaths are recorded in Australia every year. Some sources estimate that deaths in the workplace amount to about 15% of total deaths in the country. Add to that, injuries and illnesses in the thousands. These lead to considerable amounts of human suffering, pain, and emotional trauma which WHS aims to drastically reduce or prevent.

In summary: WHS helps save lives, prevent injuries and illnesses while helping businesses make more money. There are few things more important than that.. You will agree too!

What are the implications for Non-Compliance with WHS laws

Like every law, there are consequences when WHS laws are contravened. Non-compliance could result in fines or imprisonment for the guilty person(s) depending on the gravity of the mishap or degree of negligence. Additionally, non-compliance could lead to the payment of workers compensation. 

Important note: WHS non-compliance penalties vary from state to state in Australia.

You can’t afford not to be compliant. Protect yourself and your workers, with a WHS management system that works for you.

Meeting the demand of all the relevant WHS laws, regulations and standards can be hard work, so look up to Kiri Align’s effective WHS Management system which is designed to do the legwork for you and  deliver the best results for your business.

With Kiri Align, employers can plan, manage and review all their workplace health and safety performance while enabling them to maintain compliance with Australian WHS laws. 

It even gets better: Our Workplace Health and Safety management system follows a combined approach that takes into consideration employers, employees, the regulator and other stakeholders to identify, assess and manage risks in the workplace. This ensures everyone is on the same page leading to a hassle-free experience without breaking workflows.

Be prepared - discover how Kiri Align can help you avoid accidents and keep you safe today.


Published by: Kiri Align