Two men at work with safety gear on

Work Health & Safety also know as OH&S

by Angus Jones

Prevention is better than a cure and although everyone thinks it will not happen to them, unfortunately, accidents happen! In Australia, small businesses have a duty of care for work health and safety.  This guide will help you understand how you can make your environment safer as well as what your legal requirements are to create a safe work environment.

Work Health and Safety (WHS) – sometimes called Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) – involves the management of risks to the health and safety of everyone in your workplace. This includes the health and safety of anyone who works for you as well as your customers, visitors and suppliers.

WHY do I need to worry about Work Health and Safety?

If an employee or any type of visitor is injured while doing your business you will most likely be held liable for medical bills and lost wages. Unfortunately, some small businesses in Australia have lost their business because they did not take the proper precautions and have legislated insurance.

Benefits of having good WHS include:
  • staff retention
  • a reduction of injury and illness in the workplace
  • improved productivity and minimise disruptions
  • reduce your liability for injured workers

WHAT do I need to understand about WHS (OH&S)?

If you employ staff you need to take out workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance covers payments to workers for medical costs and rehabilitation expenses as well as lost wages if they are unable to work due to an injury or ill health. Workers compensation schemes are different by states and links for further details can be found further into this guide.

As a small business owner, you have an important role to play when it comes to championing safety. If you take the lead your employees will understand they should follow your safety procedures and raise safety issues.

You must put health and safety practices in place as soon as you start your business. Under Australian WHS laws, your business must ensure the health and safety of your workers and not put the health and safety of other people at risk. To do this you must:

  • provide a safe work environment
  • monitor the health of workers and conditions at the workplace
  • provide and maintain safe machinery and structures
  • provide safe ways of working
  • ensure safe use, handling and storage of machinery, structures and substances
  • provide and maintain adequate facilities
  • provide any information, training, instruction or supervision needed for safety
  • monitor the health of workers and conditions at the workplace

HOW do I manage Work Health & Safety Risks?

  1. Identify hazards in your workplace – look for physical (such as machinery noise), material or substance (for example, poison) and work task (like heavy lifting) hazards that may harm people.
  2. Assess risks – If an employee is exposed to one of these hazards how dangerous is it, can protection be added or controlled and should that hazard be fixed before work continues?
  3. Control Risk – look to prevent hazards when designing the process and if one is created work to remove that hazard.  The remaining risk may be minimised by using appropriate personal protective equipment and providing appropriate training and supervision.
  4. Review controls –  Schedule regular inspections to identify new hazards and ensure measures are being adopted.  Don’t wait for an issue to occur.
  5. Record and report safety issues- To begin with it identifies what is an issue and provides a record for any claims. You must keep records concerning certain hazards including:
    1. energised electrical work
    1. diving work
    1. hazardous chemicals
    1. plant
    1. equipment

A link to each state WHS laws and regulation can be found at the bottom of the page.

The WHS framework includes:
  • Act – outlines your broad responsibilities.
  • Regulations – set out specific requirements for hazards and risks, such as noise, machinery, and manual handling.
  • Codes of practice – provide practical information on how you can meet the requirements in the Act and Regulations.
  • Regulating Agency (regulator) – administers WHS laws, inspects workplaces, provides advice, and enforces the laws.


It may be worth getting independent advice on the WHS requirements for your business.

Emergency plans and first aid – Part of WHS is being ready to respond if an accident or emergency happens. Do you have a first aid kit and someone trained to use it? If you evacuate do you know where you will safely assemble?

Extreme weather, including cold, extreme heat, hail or strong winds may affect your business. You must keep your workers safe and ensure you’re aware of the signs of heat-related illness and how to manage the risks.

You still have WHS responsibilities at a work function.  Your staff may be letting their hair down but ensure you have internal policies around acceptable behaviour, bullying and harassment in the workplace, and sexual harassment. Any alcohol should be served legally and responsibly.

Safe Work video on how small businesses can comply with WHS requirements

SafeWork NSW provides a helpful assessment tool

SUMMARY – Preventative health & safety for small business

Work Health and Safety is an important consideration for your workplace including your requirement to have workers compensation insurance for your employees.

A safe environment encourages productive, happy staff.  Creating policies and plans in the event of an occurrence is a precaution that, although extra work, will help prevent and deal with any risk that may occur.  Each state has its own WHS laws and regulation.

Australian Capital Territory

Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT)

Regulation – WHS Regulation 2011 (ACT)

Codes – ACT Codes of Practice

Regulator – WorkSafe ACT

New South Wales

Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW)

Regulation – WHS Regulation 2017 (NSW)

Codes – NSW Codes of Practice

Regulator – SafeWork NSW

Northern Territory

Act – Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (NT)

Regulation – WHS (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations (NT)

Codes – NT Codes of Practice

Regulator – NT WorkSafe


Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)

Regulation – WHS Regulation 2011 (Qld)

Codes – Qld Codes of Practice

Regulator – Workplace Health and Safety Queensland

South Australia

Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)

Regulation – WHS Regulations 2012 (SA)

Codes – SA Codes of Practice

Regulator – SafeWork SA


Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas)

Regulation – WHS Regulations 2012 (Tas)

Codes – Tas Codes of Practice

Regulator – WorkSafe Tasmania


Act – Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)

Regulation – Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic)

Codes – Vic Compliance Codes and codes of practice

Regulator – WorkSafe Victoria

Western Australia

Act – Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA)

Regulation – Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (WA)

Codes – WA Codes of Practice

Regulator – WorkSafe WA


The Commonwealth jurisdiction covers workers for the Commonwealth Government (for example, the public service and the Australian Defence Force) and businesses licensed to self-insure under the Comcare scheme.

Act – Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cwth)

Regulation – WHS Regulations 2011 (Cwth)

Codes – Commonwealth Codes of Practice

Regulator – Comcare

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