Workplace health and safety
In addition to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and common law, important allied legislation guides and shapes the employment relationship. Broadly speaking, workplace health and safety laws facilitate a safe working environment; anti-discrimination laws aim to ensure that unfair barriers (based on gender, age etc) do not impede the progress of talented people; and taxation law and policy provide obligations to pay money to government, so it has the revenue base to provide services. The links between those objectives and employment is obvious, (even though many of those provisions apply to circumstances beyond the employment relationship, as well). This chapter outlines those laws.
While the workplace relations system for the private sector has become a national scheme regulated by the Federal government – particularly for corporations and private sector employers and employees – the opposite remains largely true in relation to workplace health and safety (WHS).
While most Australian jurisdictions have adopted ‘model'WHS provisions by way of enacting complementary legislation from a single template Act and Regulations (referred to as the ‘model Act’ and discussed in further detail below), the system adopted is one of substantially similar legislation rather than national regulation. Contrast this with the approach adopted by the States (exceptWestern Australia) with the referral to the Commonwealth of power to legislate in respect of private sector industrial relations, which has facilitated a federally legislated scheme.
This s considers the origins and evolution of workplace safety laws; legislative concepts essential to an understanding of the field; safety duties imposed upon parties in the workplace; the compliance and enforcement regime; and the interaction of workplace safety laws with industrial relations and workers’ compensation systems respectively.
Origins of modern WHS legislation
Workplace safety legislation in Australia has its origins in the factories legislation of 19thcentury Britain. The industrial revolution, the changes that it brought to the world of work, and particularly the conditions in which the work was performed, were the catalyst for early attempts to regulate safety.
Amongst the features of these early British attempts were its industry-specific nature, its reliance upon magistrates and other appointed visitors to attend and make reports (and their diligence or otherwise in doing so) and the often-disparate aspects of ‘health’ and ‘welfare’ in the workplace that they sought to regulate.