The Change from OHS to WHS: What does It Mean for Companies?

The Change from OHS to WHS: What does It Mean for Companies?

Guest Post by Alertforce

Since the start of 2012, Australia has been attempting to introduce harmonisation of work and health safety laws and regulations. The new work health and safety (WHS) model was initially introduced in New South Wales on January 1, 2012. All of the states are expected to adopt the changes by some time in 2013.

What does the change from occupational health and safety (OHS) regulations to the WHS act mean for companies and their employees? In the past, lack of consistency affected the enforcement of OHS regulations. The new WHS laws will be developed nationally and states will have the authority solely to regulate the process and to monitor enforcement.

While OHS regulations were in place, states were individually responsible for the development of their own laws, hence the lack of consistency. Other than the change of mechanism from state to national, there are few operational differences between OHS and WHS.

The Major Changes
The WHS act has introduced several major differences from the previous OHS regulations. The most important change is that the WHS provisions will apply regardless of the working relationship between an employee and an employer. The term employer is replaced by “person conducing business” and instead of employee, the new regulations use the term “worker.”

Employees, contractors, sub-contractors, volunteers, apprentices, interns and external experts are all considered workers under WHS regulations. Workplace is another term that has seen significant broadening.

As the name implies, the WHS act aims to ensure a safe workplace for employees, providing the necessary compensation in the case of an accident. Worker consultation and representation become mandatory under the new regulations. Workers have the freedom to cease work, if they are experiencing any kind of health or life threat. Several other corrections affect and define in new ways workplace discrimination, union rights of entry and the penalties for breaches.

How will WHS Affect Companies?
The changes are significant enough to imply that companies will be affected operationally by the modifications in the workplace safety regulations.

When it comes to everyday operations and the manner of doing business, WHS will not cause any major changes and shifts. Employers still have many of the duties that were theirs under the OHS.

WHS will mostly affect the creation of training materials and workplace safety manuals. New terminology has to be introduced, which renders all of the previous materials useless. Some of the currently used workplace safety content will have to be edited or removed, as well.

Companies will have to review their organizational structure to determine whether they are ready for the introduction of WHS. Worker contracts, as well as the agreements with third parties like suppliers have to be reviewed to introduce new terminology and to clarify everybody’s rights and obligations under the new act.

WHS has brought some changes to the realm of workplace safety and worker health. Companies have to understand the new terms and conditions, in order to continue functioning without breaching regulations. Although the changes between OHS and WHS are minor, they will cause the need for editing of numerous documents, which may create operational difficulties for businesses and company owners.

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