WHS/OH&S acts, regulations and codes of practice

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Get the facts on work health and safety (WHS) and occupational health and safety (OH&S) laws—what they are and who to contact for help.

How health and safety laws work

In Australia the states and territories have their own health and safety laws (acts and regulations).

As a business owner, you must meet the requirements set out in the acts and regulations in your state or territory. You may face penalties if you don’t meet them.

  • Acts give a general overview of how to make workplaces safe and healthy. They outline your legal responsibilities and duties as an employer and business owner.
  • Regulations set out the standards you need to meet for specific hazards and risks, such as noise, machinery, and manual handling. They also set out the licenses you need for specific activities, the records you need to keep, and the reports you need to make.

Regulating agencies (also known as regulators) administer health and safety laws. They’re responsible for inspecting workplaces, providing advice and help, and handing out notices and penalties where necessary.

Meeting the requirements

For practical advice on how your business can meet health and safety laws, take a look at the approved codes of practice for your state or territory.

When courts are trying to decide whether laws have been met, they may consider whether codes of practice have been followed.

You can get the approved codes of practice, and advice and support, from the regulator in your state or territory—see below.

State and territory regulators, laws and codes

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WHS and OH&S—what’s the difference?

Before 2012, health and safety laws were known as OH&S laws. Differences in the OH&S laws across the states and territories were confusing for business owners and employers.

To make the laws more consistent across Australia, in 2012 the state and territory governments agreed to develop model laws (WHS Act and Regulations), on which they could base their health and safety laws.

All states and territories have made new WHS laws based on the model laws, except for Victoria and Western Australia. This is why the Victorian and Western Australian acts and regulations still refer to OH&S (or OSH) instead of WHS.

Find out more about the model work health and safety laws on the Safe Work Australia website.

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