Implementation of the model WHS laws
In 2011, Safe Work Australia developed a single set of WHS laws to be implemented across Australia. These are known as the model WHS laws. For the model WHS laws to become legally binding, the Commonwealth, states and territories must implement them as their own laws.
The model WHS laws have been implemented in the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. They are yet to be implemented in Victoria and Western Australia.
Western Australia undertook consultations throughout 2018 on proposed WHS laws based on the model WHS Act. The Work Health and Safety Bill 2019 (WA), introduced on 27 November 2017, is based on the model WHS laws. The Western Australian Legislative Assembly passed the bill on 20 February 2020. It has now been referred to the Standing Committee on Legislation, which is due to report in August 2020.
Review of the model WHS laws
Ms Marie Boland completed an independent review of the model WHS laws in 2018 (the 2018 Review). The 2018 Review found that the model WHS laws are largely operating as intended and proposed 34 recommendations to improve clarity and consistency.
Safe Work Australia released a Consultation Regulation Impact Statement on 24 June 2019, seeking comments on the recommendations of the 2918 Review. Consultations were open for a 6-week period until 5 August 2019, and the agency received 102 submissions.
Safe Work Australia prepared a Decision Regulation Impact Statement (Decision RIS) analysing regulatory impacts of the recommendations of the 2018 Review and alternative options identified through consultation. The Office of Best Practice Regulation confirmed that the Decision RIS meets the requirements set out in the COAG guidelines on best practice regulation. The Decision RIS was provided to WHS ministers for consideration and decision in December 2019.
Updates to model Codes of Practice
In 2019–20, Safe Work Australia made minor updates to the following model Codes:
- Model Code of Practice: How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace. These updates reflect amendments to the model WHS laws dealing with prohibited asbestos.
- Model Code of Practice: First aid in the workplace. The update removes references to specific first aid courses which are no longer current and includes guidance on how to select an appropriate first aid course.
Safe Work Australia develops national policy relating to workplace hazardous chemicals, major hazard facilities and asbestos under the model WHS laws.
This includes the development, revision and maintenance of model Codes of Practice and guidance material to support the operation of the model WHS Regulations.
We also maintain the Hazardous Chemicals Information System and implement the Globally Harmonized System of Classiﬁcation and Labelling of Chemicals in Australia.
Prohibited asbestos notices
Amendments to the model WHS Act were published in March 2020 to strengthen the powers available to WHS regulators when dealing with asbestos that was fixed or installed in a workplace after the prohibition on asbestos was introduced at the end of 2003.
The change means that where the regulator reasonably believes that prohibited asbestos is present in a workplace, they must issue a ‘prohibited asbestos notice’ even if the asbestos is discovered long after any work involving it has been completed.
The notice details the measures that must to be taken to deal with the prohibited asbestos. Importantly, there is flexibility for a regulator to determine what measures must be taken.
While immediate removal of asbestos is the ideal outcome, it may not always be appropriate. For example, there may be circumstances where the prohibited asbestos does not present a risk to health and safety in its current state, but its removal may create a risk to workers or others at the workplace.
Consequential amendments were made to the Codes of Practice How to manage and control asbestos in the workplace and How to safely remove asbestos to reflect the new powers.
Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals
We undertook targeted and public consultation processes to seek stakeholder views on the implementation of the 7th revised edition of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS 7) in Australia through the model WHS laws. Implementation of GHS 7 will bring Australia into alignment with major trading partners over the coming years and ensure that users of chemicals are provided with up-to-date hazard classification and communication.
The Australian chemicals industry, particularly the aerosols and industrial gases sectors, was highly supportive of the implementation of GHS 7 under the model WHS laws from both a trade and a health and safety perspective. Based on this strong support from industry, Safe Work Australia Members agreed in November 2019 to implement GHS 7, with a 2-year transitional period commencing on 1 July 2020.
Recognising the potential for the COVID-19 pandemic to lessen the opportunity for the chemicals industry to make full use of the 2-year transitional period, the commencement of the transitional period was delayed until 1 January 2021. To provide maximum flexibility, arrangements have been put in place to allow businesses that had planned to commence transitioning to GHS 7 from 1 July 2020 to do so.
Safe Work Australia will continue to support the implementation of GHS 7 by publishing targeted guidance and undertaking awareness-raising activities in the lead-up to and during the transitional period.
Flammable liquid storage guide
We developed new guidance on storing flammable liquids safely during 2019–20 to complete a suite of small business focused guidance on storage of hazardous chemicals. We targeted this short guide at small to medium businesses that are not chemicals specialists to help them comply with their work health and safety duties by providing simple, plain English practical advice and examples.
Occupational hygiene policy
Safe Work Australia develops national policy to assist in the protection of workers from chemical and physical exposures at the workplace. This includes exposures from all routes (inhalation, skin absorption, ingestion, combination) to hazardous chemicals in all forms (dusts, mists, fumes, aerosols).
Workplace exposure standards
Under the model WHS laws, a duty holder must ensure that workers are not exposed to airborne hazardous chemicals above the concentration listed in the workplace exposure standards (WES) for airborne contaminants. Australia’s WES currently include over 700 hazardous chemicals.
Over 2019–20 we continued to progress the review of the workplace exposure standards. Using a methodology published on the Safe Work Australia website in June 2018, we are undertaking a health-based review of the WES including:
- sourcing exposure standard information
- evaluating individual workplace exposure standards and advisory notations, and
- revising the list of chemicals to better reflect Australian workplaces.
The aim of the health-based review is to make sure the WES are supported by the highest quality, most contemporary evidence and a rigorous scientific approach. The methodology underwent a thorough peer review and approval process.
There is also a thorough process that supports establishing a new WES. Each draft evaluation report is prepared following the agreed methodology. It is independently peer reviewed and released for public feedback. This public feedback process aims to gather information on the feasibility and practicalities of the health-based recommendations.
Safe Work Australia Members then consider the health-based recommendations and public feedback as it applies to the WHS framework and contemporary Australian workplaces, including matters of compliance, implementation and feasibility. Following the Safe Work Australia governance process, Safe Work Australia Members make recommendations to WHS ministers. A minimum two-thirds majority of WHS ministers must support the recommendations before changes to the WES can be implemented into the model WHS laws.
We completed this process for 2 priority chemicals: respirable coal dust (RCD) and respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Safe Work Australia Members agreed on 31 July 2019 to recommend reducing WES for RCD and RCS. This recommendation was subsequently agreed by the requisite majority of WHS ministers.
- RCD was reduced to an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) of 1.5 mg/m3, with a 3-year transitional period, and
- RCS was reduced to a TWA of 0.05 mg/m3, with implementation to be no later than 1 July 2020.
WHS ministers also agreed to allow for further investigation into the feasibility of adopting a TWA of 0.02 mg/m3 for RCS.
Over 2019–20 we released draft evaluation reports for 469 chemicals and received more than 420 submissions through the public comment process. The public consultation process for the review was paused in March 2020. During this time the remaining draft evaluation reports were finalised and independently peer reviewed. The public feedback process is expected to resume in late 2020 or early 2021.
Following the conclusion of the public comment process, Safe Work Australia Members will consider and make further recommendations to WHS ministers.
We also progressed other research projects relevant to the WES review which will be finalised in the second half of 2020, including:
- a report on limitations and solutions to measuring respirable crystalline silica, and
- a report on a short-term exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica.
Guides for health monitoring
Health monitoring is provided by a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), such as an employer, for a worker. It involves using medical tests to monitor and protect a worker’s health because of exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Safe Work Australia Members approved 37 health monitoring guides for hazardous chemicals in November 2019 and we published these guides on our website in February 2020. These include guides for:
- registered medical practitioners, and
- monitoring individual hazardous chemicals including crystalline silica.
Advice from key medical and radiological experts was incorporated into the guides to reflect leading practices in health monitoring.
Publication of the guides was supported by a communication strategy including:
- social media promotion
- the creation of a dedicated webpage on the Safe Work Australia website, and
- dissemination through the Communications Reference Group.
Occupational lung diseases
Occupational lung diseases are conditions of the respiratory system that have occupational exposure as a risk factor for developing the disease. They are a priority condition under the Australian Strategy.
Throughout 2019–20, Safe Work Australia’s occupational lung diseases work plan continued to help us:
- increase our understanding of national issues surrounding occupational lung diseases
- raise awareness of the duties and control measures for preventing and managing exposure to dusts that can cause occupational lung diseases, and
- develop a solid evidence base to inform future national policy decisions.
We have engaged with diverse audiences, and provided practical information and strategies that can be used at the workplace to reduce the risk of occupational lung diseases:
- In September 2019, we published the national guide for Working with silica and silica containing products. It was later published in 6 languages: Arabic, Chinese (traditional and simplified), Greek, Italian and Vietnamese. The guide is:
- helping to improve the awareness of duties of PCBUs, and
- conveying practical information on how to protect the health and safety of workers who work with, and in the vicinity of, silica dust.
We completed a literature review about controlling airborne dust. The findings are informing our practical and targeted advice to a broad range of industries on how to achieve effective dust control in a contemporary workplace and protect workers from airborne dusts. The review provided insights into:
- changes and advances in airborne dust control measures
- work processes to avoid or mitigate exposure, and
- factors that can influence the effectiveness of dust control measures.
We completed a regulator data capture project to understand the scope of data collected, recorded and held by WHS regulators.
As we continue to implement the work plan in 2020–21, we will focus on:
- publishing the report, Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006 – 2019, which
- outlines the current landscape of occupational lung disease in Australia and presents changes in their extent and incidence since 2006, and
- identifies the industries and occupations at high risk of occupational lung diseases.
- developing and supporting education and awareness activities, with a focus on micro and small to medium business, to improve compliance with the WHS laws and improve the health and safety of workers, and
- exploring a range of national datasets with the goal of improving evidence on occupational lung diseases.
A key focus in relation to occupational lung diseases in 2020–21 will be the development and implementation of a model Code of Practice for controlling respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace. Safe Work Australia Members agreed to the model Code of Practice in November 2019 and it is currently under development.
High Risk Work and Construction Policy
Safe Work Australia develops national policy relating to managing the risks to health and safety arising in priority industries including construction, agriculture and transport. This includes the development, revision and maintenance of model Codes of Practice and guidance material to support the operation of the model WHS Regulations.
Revision of high risk work national assessment instruments
The model WHS Regulations require that a person hold a high risk work licence to carry out high-risk work. They set out the 29 classes of work for which high risk work licences are required and the vocational education and training (VET) course qualifications that a candidate must complete to be eligible to apply for a specific licence for high-risk work.
The Commonwealth, state and territory WHS regulators are responsible for issuing high risk work licences. Across all jurisdictions, to be deemed eligible for a high risk work licence candidates must, on completion of the relevant VET course unit of competency, undertake an assessment via the applicable national assessment instrument (NAI).
During 2019–20, Safe Work Australia, with the assistance of WHS regulators and technical experts, revised 13 transport and logistics NAIs to increase their usability, remove errors and ensure consistency with the relevant national units of competency.
The revised documents were endorsed by Members and commenced use on 1 March 2020. A project to revise the remaining 16 NAIs has begun and will be undertaken in 2020–21.
Heat and solar ultraviolet radiation guidance
In December 2019 and January 2020 Safe Work Australia’s existing guidance material for working in heat and ultraviolet radiation (UVR) guidance was updated. The existing working in heat material was supplemented by an infographic and fact sheet to highlight key information for employers and PCBUs on prevention, control measures and the latest statistics for working in heat. A communication strategy was delivered from December 2019 to March 2020 to raise awareness of work-related illness and injury associated with working in heat and bushfire and air pollution in both indoor and outdoor workplaces. A new webpage on bushfire and air pollution was developed to provide resources and advice for those who may be working with polluted air caused by nearby bushfires.
Under the model WHS laws, duty holders must assess and eliminate or minimise the risks of working in heat, so far as is reasonably practicable, to protect worker health and safety. The new infographic and fact sheet provided information on the potential hazards that could arise from working in heat including heat-related illnesses, such as heat stroke, heat cramps, dehydration and fainting. The fact sheet identified methods of protecting worker health and safety through the implementation of controls, such as re-scheduling work to cooler parts of the day, providing cool drinking water and allowing adequate rest breaks. The infographic and fact sheet were published on the agency’s website in January 2020 and disseminated through communication channels including social media and as a news item in the subscriber mailout as part of the communication strategy.
The Guide on exposure to solar UVR provides practical guidance for PCBUs and workers about managing health and safety risks associated with exposure to solar UVR. The guide contains information on the risks of solar UVR exposure and on the control measures which can be used to eliminate or minimise, so far as is reasonably practicable, a worker’s exposure to solar UVR in the workplace. The guide was updated in 2019–20 with some minor changes to ensure the content was relevant and up to date.
Prefabricated concrete guidance
We developed new guidance for the safe use of prefabricated concrete (also known as precast or tilt-up concrete). Prefabricated concrete is concrete that has been manufactured somewhere other than its final place of installation. It is increasingly widely used in construction activities.
Due to their size and mass, prefabricated concrete elements pose a significant safety risk and can cause workers and others to be seriously injured or even killed. Construction work that involves prefabricated concrete elements is considered ‘high risk construction work’ and is subject to additional duties under the model WHS laws. Safe design and detailed planning are necessary to manage the health and safety risks associated with the use of prefabricated concrete.
Published in October 2019, the Guide to managing risk in construction: prefabricated concrete provides duty holders with practical information on how to eliminate or minimise the health and safety risks associated with the use of prefabricated concrete. It outlines relevant duties under the model WHS laws and provides best practice information on how to work safely with prefabricated concrete elements.