The Work Health and Safety Act 2011, at 233 pages, is crucial to any business. It’s also a bit of a beast to read, let alone practically understand and comply with.

We get it. So we’ve done the work for you.

Over a series of posts, Pegasus is explaining the Act and what it means for you and your business – in simple, practical terms to help you better understand.

Part one covered what the Act actually is, and in part two we looked at what your duty under the Act is. Today we get real – how you enact your obligations.

It’s important to remember this post does not constitute legal advice, and shouldn’t be relied upon as such. Compliance with this post doesn’t mean your business will have satisfied all WHS requirements.

Part Three: The Process – How Do I Enact It?

In a nutshell

You need dedicated people and processes in place to make sure your workplace is safe. Basically, you need to ‘police’ the situation.

Let’s take a look

Every workplace should have Health and Safety Representatives, a robust consultation process, and strict processes to follow if a health and safety incident occurs in the workplace. If you don’t have effective and accurate documentation and actions, you face hefty fines and substantial impacts to your business.

Health and Safety Representatives

Under the Act, workplaces can appoint Health and Safety Representatives at the request of workers. They:

  1. Represent workers and groups
  2. Investigate complaints
  3. Look into potential workplace risks

If they find something dodgy? They have the authority to stop work they deem to be unsafe.

Health and Safety Representatives at your workplace are appointed (or elected) to the position, and they hold it for three years. They are eligible for re-election after that.

Important: Health and Safety Representatives are not personally liable for anything done (or not done) in good faith when performing their duties under the Act.

Also important: Health and Safety Representatives can be disqualified by a court or tribunal if they act inappropriately. It’s a serious position, not just a figurehead. Any representative should obtain advice about any potential liability they may have.

As an Employer, what do I need to do for my Health and Safety Representatives?

It is your responsibility to:

  • Consult and confer,
  • Allow access to information about hazards and the health and safety of workers,
  • Be present in interviews between workers and health and safety inspectors,
  • Provide resources, facilities, and assistance to you Representatives

These obligations are genuine—you face heavy fines if found in breach. $10,000 for individuals, $50,000 for body corporate.

Health and Safety Representatives need to be trained in this role—provided by you. The penalty for not doing so is $10,000 for individuals, $50,000 for body corporate.

Everyone in your workplace needs to know who the representatives are—easiest way to do this is to provide an accessible and up-to-date list. The penalty for not doing so is $2,000 for individuals, $10,000 for body corporate.

In other words, you can’t afford to not do these things.

Health and Safety Committees

Committees exist to:

  • Facilitate cooperation between employers and workers in instigating, developing, and carrying out measures to ensure health and safety at work;
  • Help develop standards, rules and procedures relating to health and safety at work;
  • Perform any other functions in the Act or agreed between the employer and the committee.

Not every workplace has a Health and Safety Committee. If they do, they must meet at least every three months.

As an Employer, what do I need to do for my Committees?

You need to give committee members time to attend meetings and carry out their duties. They also need access to information regarding hazards and the health and safety of workers. If you don’t, you can be fined $10,000 as an individual or $50,000 for body corporate.

The exception

Health and Safety Representatives or Committees cannot be given access to workers’ personal or medical information without their consent unless it doesn’t identify the worker. The penalty is $10,000 for individuals, $50,000 for body corporate.

Okay, now I know the process. How do I enact this in my workplace?

We’ve already talked about the importance of clear and easy to access policies in complying with the Act. What we haven’t discussed is the importance of risk management and consultation in creating your work health and safety policies.

When risks are appropriately managed, they can lead to a reduction in incidents.

When people feel heard and part of the process, they are more like to agree and comply.

Let’s step this out:

Risk Management

Every organisation has work roles which involve a certain amount of risk, and those require management. The amount of risk varies between workplaces and depends on the scope of work, location, number of workers involved, and other factors.

You’re legally required to establish a plan and guidelines for a thorough risk management process to control any foreseeable risks within your workplace.

We’re here to help in the most practical way-  the Pegasus Safety Management System (SMS) Knowledge Base includes a range of material which outlines processes for the application of risk management, including the current Act and Reg’s, associated codes of practice and international standards such as ISO 31000:2009 – Risk Management – Principles and Guidelines. This may help you.

Risk Register

Developing and implementing a Register is vital to your risk management process. The most common approach is a Broad-Brush Risk Assessment where hazards associated with all workplace activities are captured.

Risk Registers need regular reviewing and updating – with every change clearly communicated. Other examples of Risk Registers (this is not a definitive list):

  • Pre-task risk assessments (such as Take 5, 60 seconds)
  • Job Safety Analysis (JSA’s)
  • Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS)
  • Safe Work Procedures (SWP’s)

What part does consultation play?

It is the greatest non-negotiable in ensuring your workplace adheres to the Act. You need to consult with your workers—it underpins the risk management process. The more chance that a hazard can cause serious harm, the more extensive consultation required.

Consultation means workers are involved in the identification, development, implementation, and the review of risk management strategies.

Consultation is required when:

  • identifying hazards and assessing risks,
  • deciding how to eliminate and minimise risks,
  • deciding if the facilities are adequate,
  • proposing changes which could affect the health or safety of workers,
  • deciding the procedures for resolving health or safety issues,
  • monitoring the health of workers or workplace conditions, information and training or consultation with workers, and
  • carrying out any other activity prescribed by the Act.

What is reasonably practicable in relation to consultation?

What is reasonably practicable when it comes to the consultation process depends on a number of factors which may include but is not limited to:

  • Size and structure of your workplace
  • Nature of work
  • Nature of the decision – if it’s urgent
  • Work arrangements – shift and/or remote work
  • Worker characteristics – do you need a translator?

In this context, what is required in consultation with workers?

You need to:

  • Share relevant work health and safety information with workers,
  • Provide opportunities for views and concerns to be expressed,
  • Provide opportunities for contributing to decision-making process,
  • Allow workers the opportunity to select their representatives,
  • Take into account the views of workers, and
  • Advise workers of the outcome of consultation.

The objective? Make sure everyone has a shared understanding of what the risks are, which workers are affected and how the risks will be controlled.

In our experience, toolbox talks and prestart meetings are an excellent way to consult with a large cross-section of your workforce and to update them on the outcome of previous consultations. Our mobile app even allows you to keep a record of the meetings, and who attended, right from your device on site.

In the next post of this series, we’ll be looking at how the Act is enforced and what constitutes an incident. Stay tuned.


The contents of this blog post do not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Putting in place the discussed policies in this post will not guarantee your WHS compliance. You should seek legal advice or other professional advice in relation to any particular matters you or your organisation may have.

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