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Know your work health and safety rights and responsibilities

Being an employee requires you to be aware of health and safety at work.

It's the responsibility of all workers to provide a healthy and safe workplace – and you're entitled to have a healthy and safe environment to work in. What are your WHS rights and what you need to know and do to ensure your health and safety at work are prioritised?

What is Workplace Health and Safety (WHS)?

Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) involves the assessment and minimising of risks that may impact the health, safety or welfare of those in your workplace. This may include the health and safety of customers, your workmates, visitors to site, contractors, volunteers and even suppliers. Your employer, as a business owner, is required by law to manage WHS by:

  • eliminating risks to health and safety so far as is reasonably practicable
  • if elimination is not realistically possible, minimising the risks so far as is reasonably practicable.

What's the difference between WHS and OH&S?

Before 2012, WHS laws were known as Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) laws. These laws differed across Australian states and territories. To make the laws more consistent across Australia, in 2012 most state and territory governments agreed to develop model laws (the WHS Act and Regulations) on which they could base their health and safety laws. The wording ‘Occupational Health and Safety’ has gradually been phased out.

Benefits of WHS in the workplace

Creating a safe work environment is a legal requirement and is critical to the long-term success of your employer's business. It can:

  • help them retain employees
  • maximise employee productivity
  • minimise injury and illness in the workplace
  • reduce the costs of injury and workers’ compensation
  • ensure they meet their legal obligations and employee responsibilities
  • satisfy the needs and requirements of the person or company they are contracting to.

WHS obligations for business

As a business owner, your employer has a legal responsibility to implement health and safety practices. They must ensure their business doesn’t create health and safety problems for their employees, contractors, volunteers, visitors, customers or the public.

Knowing and understanding WHS laws and how they apply to your employer will help you support your employer and your fellow employees in your place of work.

Under Australian WHS legislation your employer is legally obliged to:

  • provide safe work premises
  • assess risks and implement appropriate measures for controlling them
  • ensure safe use and handling of goods and substances
  • provide and maintain safe machinery and materials
  • assess workplace layout and provide safe systems of work
  • provide a suitable working environment and facilities
  • have insurance and workers compensation insurance for their employees.

Though it may be perceived as costly for employers to implement safe practices and install safety equipment, the impact of not taking action can be severe. If they fail to comply with WHS requirements they can be prosecuted and fined.

Your WHS obligations

Being an employee requires you to be aware of your work health and safety responsibilities – both to yourself and your workmates. You must:

  • comply with instructions given for work health and safety
  • use any provided personal protective equipment (PPE) and be properly trained in how to use it
  • not wilfully or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided for work health and safety at the workplace
  • not wilfully place others at risk
  • not wilfully injure yourself.
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