A Definitive Guide to WHS Policies, Procedures & Compliance in Australia

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21st July 2021

The scope of WHS (Work Health and Safety) is far reaching and impacts business at every level. The purpose of this guide is to explain the key WHS requirements that organisations in Australia need to be aware of, including a breakdown of policies and procedures.

WHS Policies

Introduction to Workplace Health and Safety (WHS)

Work Health and Safety (WHS) also called Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) is a multi-faceted area of regulation impacting the management and control of health, safety and welfare at work.

It is based on the principles of prevention and the requirement for workplaces to be safe. It also applies to work activities on sites, structures, facilities, equipment, plant and mobile equipment outside the workplace.

WHS is a broad, complex topic, which is why we've put together this guide to help you understand all of the components including WHS policies and procedures that come into play.

Let’s get started.

Why is WHS important?

Is there more to WHS than it being an industry buzzword?


Employee absences can quickly translate to high costs for companies. Especially in small and medium-sized companies, the absence of an employee can cause serious disruption in the operational process and potentially financial loss.

In your business’ interests, It is therefore important to avoid situations detrimental to safety at work and health hazards in the workplace.

It all adds up to…

WHS benefits:

WHS Policies and Procedures – What are they and Why You Need One

As an employer, you have to tread very carefully when it comes to managing the health and safety of your workplace. You are ultimately responsible for the welfare of your employees during their time in the workplace.

In other words, you need to ensure that the place where you work is safe and secure for your staff.

So how do you stack the odds in your favor?

Pay special attention to your WHS Policies and Procedures

WHS Policies 

WHS Policy is a written document that outlines how an organisation intends to fulfill its commitment to workplace health and safety - in practice it contains details of principles, objectives, and commitments to that effect. Additionally, it serves as a selling point for companies by highlighting the health and safety benefits and opportunities they offer to employees.

Common components of a WHS Policy for your organisation

WHS Policies spell out:

*Note: It’s important to then state how you’ll implement these things. 

WHS procedures

WHS procedures make an organisation’s WHS policies achievable. They are a set of actionable guides that inform workers  on the steps they need to take to fulfill an organisation’s WHS policies as well as compliance with the Work Health and Safety laws (WHS Act).

At the core of it, WHS procedures identify regulatory compliance requirements and outline modalities to ensure a safe and healthy work environment .

Why your organisation needs WHS Policies and Procedures

Primarily, WHS policies and procedures work to make your organisation safe for your employees i.e. ensuring they are protected from possible health and safety risk.

Additional reasons why companies in Australia need WHS policies and procedures include:

Key Points to Consider When Creating WHS Policies and Procedures

The following are general considerations when preparing WHS policies and procedures. It is by no means exhaustive and is industry agnostic

To ensure your WHS policies and procedure go far, consider the following:

WHS Compliance

All Australian businesses and organisations are legally obliged to implement Work Health and Safetypolicies, procedures and practices to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees.

Penalties for breaches to Work Health and Safety law varies with each state and territory. Also, it depends on the degree of seriousness or liability involved.

For example, in Queensland per the official government website, the highest penalty under the WHS Act is 20 years imprisonment for an individual or $10 million for a corporate organisation while the least - a Category 3 offence i.e “failure to comply with a health and safety duty or electrical safety duty” attracts a penalty of up to $500,000 for corporations, $100,000 for a guilty individual (officer), and up to $50,000 for an individual (worker).

What is the key to avoid this: Compliance.

To give meaning to the word in the light of, “compliance” simply means adhering to Australian Workplace Health and Safety laws and regulations as evidenced by the concrete steps taken to ensure the safety of a workplace. Safety here is not limited to workers alone, but also customers, visitors, contractors, and anyone with legitimate cause who finds themselves in-and-around the workplace.

WHS Compliance: What is the principal WHS Law in Australia

In Australia, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) is primary WHS law so to speak. It is designed to protect workers from potential hazards that could lead to an accident or illness while at work.

The Act provides a legislative framework for the implementation and management of a WHS system, allowing businesses to comply with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Management Standards.

The WHS Act was born out of a need for harmonised legislation to replace the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) laws which varied from state to state. Thanks to the Act, health and safety management in Australia is now free from variations.

Who is responsible for ensuring WHS in an organisation in Australia?

Managing and complying with Work Health and Safety (WHS) in Australia is primarily a legal responsibility of employers. The goal is to ensure that employees are safe from hazards and that employers are complying with WHS laws.

Now, let’s have a look at the various obligations. First on the part of the employer, then the employee.

The Employer’s Responsibilities - Duty of care

Health and Safety is a responsibility that can't be taken lightly. You have to be constantly vigilant and work with your employees to ensure they are aware of hazards and know how to mitigate them.

In fact, one of the requirements an employer has under the Work Health and Safety Act is to develop, implement, maintain and continuously review your workplace health and safety policies, procedures, and management system.

Responsibilities of the Employee

In this all important endeavor, workers are not left out.

In fact it is expected that they look after themselves and avoid anything that will throw the health and safety of other employees in jeopardy. As part of their responsibilities, employees must adhere to WHS management systems prescribed by the employer- this includes but not limited to the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), following instructions, reporting unsafe practices at the workplace, and employing safe working practices among other things. 

How to Comply with WHS Legislation and Requirements

As an organisation or business required to comply with WHS laws, you just have to be on your toes - regularly probing for  new and existing threats to health and safety in your workplace. And not just stopping there, you have to come up with measures to do away with them or reduce them to as far as practicably possible.

But because of the differences in peculiarities, nuances and characteristics of each business type, WHS compliance can vary. For this reason it is in your best interest to get assistance from the right quarters.

With that in mind however, there are general compliance obligations common to all kinds of organisations. Here are some:

In Summary, WHS compliance helps keep employees, clients, and visitors safe in the workplace. However, it doesn't stop there: it provides an additional benefit seen in the form of cost savings owing to increase in productivity, and decrease in absenteeism, compensation claims, fines, downtime and the like.

How to implement and maintain WHS effectively and avoid compliance penalties

To wrap up, let’s  discuss how to get the most value from your WHS efforts.

Not many people are currently aware that a well-thought-out Health and Safety Management System gives peace of mind and more, when it comes to WHS compliance.

The solution is  deceptively  simple.  You just need to make sure that your health and safety policies and procedures are as unique as your organisation is – not a templated, canned attempt.

This is where the best WHS management systems like the Kiri Align software shines through.

As a cloud-based software, its biggest draw lies in proactively ensuring organisations achieve safety compliance by creating  a safe work environment.

The results so far are incredible: it takes 2x less the required time to implement an online safety and compliance system, and the cost savings are significant- in some cases up to 50%. This is achievable!

And with Kiri Align’s free trial plan or a paid plan as low as $20 per month, you can unlock these benefits. 

Published by: Kiri Align