Acts and Regulations
To protect workers in high-risk environments, such as those working at heights, the Australian Government has legislated mandatory workplace health and safety requirements (Legislation and Regulations).
Any time there is a risk of a worker falling from one level to another, the worker is at significant risk of injury and needs to be protected. Employers have a legal obligation to provide workers with a safe workplace and in turn, workers each have their own legal responsibility to ensure they take reasonably practicable steps to make sure that everyone goes home at the end of the day.
Understanding our responsibilities is vital to ensure there is consistency across our industry and every workplace.
An Act is legislation passed by parliament: a statue or law which in turn are supported by Regulations, Codes of Practice and Australian Standards.
Acts set out the broad legal / policy principles. For example, the Workplace / Occupational Health and Safety Acts provide a framework to protect the health, safety and welfare or all workers at work and of other people who might be affected by the work.
Acts are known as primary legislation; and the term legislation itself encompasses a single law or a collection of laws.
Regulations are documents that dictate how the provisions of the Act are applied. Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) / Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulations specify the way in which some duties under the WHS Act must be met and prescribes procedural or administrative requirements to support the WHS / OHS Act.
Further guidance for Person(s) Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) are Code of Practice or Compliance Codes.
These establish and document a practical guide to achieving and maintaining standards of health, safety and welfare. Codes of Practice (COP’s) are developed with consultation with industry bodies and are subject to review to ensure the content remains relevant and appropriately reflects current industry best practice and new equipment, technology and working practices are developed.
A Code of Practice applies to anyone who has a duty of care in the circumstances described in the code. For most cases, an approved code of practice would achieve compliance with the health and safety duties in the Workplace Health and Safety Act. Like Regulations, Codes of Practice deal with specific issues and they do not cover all hazards or risks that may arise.
Codes of Practice are admissible in court proceedings under the Workplace Health and Safety Act and Regulations. Courts may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control and may rely on the code of practice when determining what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances in which the Code relates.
SafeWork Australia has developed Code of Practice / Industry Codes to provide practical guidance on how to meet the standards required under the Workplace Health and Safety Act and Regulations: however, the Commonwealth, States and Territories are responsible for implementing, regulating and enforcing Workplace Health and Safety laws in their jurisdiction. Therein lies a notable distinction between State or National (Government) based Codes of Practice and industry based Codes.
In specific reference to height safety related matters, the WAHA has developed Industry Codes which seek to draw details of regulations, codes of practice and manufacturer recommendations together to provide guidance on the correct, safe installation, inspection and recertification of fall protection systems. These are intended to enhance, not replace, the codes of practice and provide all stakeholders with industry-best-practice methods for height safety systems. These codes are an example of industry based codes vs State or National based Codes of Practice.
The model laws developed by SafeWork Australia have been implemented in all jurisdictions except Victoria and Western Australia; Western Australia is currently consulting on options to implement elements of the model laws.
In the jurisdictions where the model laws have been implemented, each state and territory is expected to make variations to ensure the laws operate effectively in their jurisdictions. In some instances, states and territories have also made more substantial variations. This is why it is important to make sure you always consider the WHS laws that apply in your state or territory.
Additional guidance material is contained within Australian Standards, International Standards (ISO Standards), European Standards (EN Standards).
The foundation is Operational Documents. In order to keep workers safe from the risk of illness or injury companies need to have operational and site-specific procedures, forms and documentation to assist them in meeting and maintaining their legislative duties as well as their duty of care to their employees.
All workplace health and safety obligations upon employers and those engaging volunteers are governed under the relevant Act for each State and Territory, typically known as the Workplace Health & Safety Act.
Codes of Practice
Following a federal intervention, model legislation was drafted as a basis for state/territory review in order to harmonise the legislation across the jurisdictions to make it easier for national employers to meet their obligations across Australia. Whilst a number of States and Territories have adopted parts/all of these changes, many are still in the process of review.
In order for companies and individuals to better understand their legal obligations and assist manage the risks of working in confined spaces, each state and territory publishes a Code of Practice.
Below is listed the most current series of publications available from the regulators that are specific to safe work at height and confined spaces.
It is recommended that employers consult with the relevant regulator website to ensure these publications are current and to also register for updates where this service might be available.
Working at Heights
SafeWork Australia – Model Code of Practice: Managing the risk of Falls at Workplaces 2018.
Northern Territory – Code of Practice – Managing the risk of falls at workplaces 2020.
Australian Capitol Territory – adopted the model code by SafeWork Australia.
Queensland – Code of Practice Managing the risk of falls in workplaces 2021.
New South Wales – Code of Practice Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces 2019.
Victoria – A Guide to Falls Prevention 2017.
Southern Australia – Code of Practice Managing the risk of falls in workplaces 2020.
Western Australia – Code of Practice – Prevention of falls from height at workplaces 2020.
Tasmania – adopted the model code by SafeWork Australia.
SafeWork Australia – Confined Spaces Industry Code 2020.
Northern Territory – Confined Spaces Code of Practice 2020.
Australian Capitol Territory – Confined Spaces Code of Practice 2020.
Queensland – Confined Spaces Code of Practice 2021.
New South Wales – Code of Practice Confined Spaces 2019.
Victoria – Compliance Code Confined Spaces 2019.
South Australia – Confined Spaces Code of Practice 2020.
Western Australia – Has NOT adopted the model code.
Tasmania – adopted the model code by SafeWork Australia.