OHS vs WHS: What’s The Difference?

OHS vs WHS: What’s The Difference?

The terms WHS and OHS are often used interchangeably in the workplace. The majority of people are unsure whether they mean the same thing, how they’re similar, and how they’re different.

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between ohs vs whs, what these terms mean and how they apply to your business workplace.

Read along!

Table of Contents

What’s the difference between OHS and WHS?

There is no difference between Occupational Health and Safety(OHS) and Workplace Health and Safety(WHS). This is because WHS is the new term that replaced OHS.

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What are WHS and OHS?

WHS, also known as OHS, refers to managing risks to everyone’s health and safety at the workplace. WHS applies to everyone associated with your workplace, such as your employees, suppliers, visitors and customers.  The term WHS was first introduced in January 2012. However, Safe Work Australia released the draft of the model whs act in 2009.

WHS involves the assessment and reduction of risks that may impact the health, safety or welfare of individuals in the workplace. This includes the health, safety or welfare of customers, employees, contractors, volunteers and suppliers. 

Common work, health and safety practices include:

  • Creating a safe workplace
  • Assessing the workplace environment and providing safe systems of work
  • Providing employees with health insurance and workers’ compensation insurance
  • Having insurance and workers’ compensation insurance for employees

On the 1st of January 2012 the Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales adopted the model WHS legislation. 

On the 1st of January 2013, South Australia and Tasmania adopted the model WHS legislation. Western Australia adopted their own version of the model WHS legislation on the 10th of November 2020, and this legislation came into effect on the 31st of March 2022. 

It should be noted that Victoria hasn’t implemented the model WHS legislation. Although WHS has harmonised a majority of existing laws across Australia, separate authorities and legislation exist for each state and territory.

What law governs work health and safety?

In Australia, every territory and state has their  own WHS legislation and a regulator responsible for enforcing the laws. Each state and territory have a WHS system that includes the following:

  • Work Health and Safety Act: The purpose of the Act is to define your general  responsibilities
  • WHS Regulations: Regulations are used to outline the requirements for specific risks and hazards, including manual handling, machinery and noise
  • WHS Codes of Practice: The codes of practice contain information on how you can comply with the requirements under the Act and Regulations
  • Regulating Agency( Regulator): Regulators are required to administer WHS legislation, monitor workplaces, offer advice to employers and enforce WHS legislation

The system used by each state, territory and the commonwealth is outlined below:

State or TerritoryACTRegulationCodes of PracticeRegulator
New South Wales (NSW)Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NSW)Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (NSW)NSW Codes of PracticeSafeWork NSW
Northern Territory (NT)Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Act 2011 (NT)Work Health and Safety (National Uniform Legislation) Regulations (NT)NT Codes of Practice
NT WorkSafe
Queensland (QLD)Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld)
Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld)
Qld Codes of Practice
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
South Australia (SA)Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA)
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (SA)
SA Codes of Practice
SafeWork SA
Tasmania (Tas)Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (Tas)
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (Tas)
Tas Codes of PracticeWorkSafe Tasmania
Victoria(VIC)Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic)
Vic Compliance Codes and codes of practice
WorkSafe Victoria
Western Australia (WA)Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (WA)
Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 (WA)
WA Codes of Practice
WorkSafe WA
Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Cwth)
Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 (Cwth)
Commonwealth Codes of Practice
Comcare
Australian Capital Territory (ACT)Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (ACT)Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (ACT)ACT Codes of Practice
WorkSafe ACT

What are your obligations under the WHS act and regulations?

Employer Obligations

As an employer, you’re required to implement health and safety procedures in your workplace immediately after starting your business. Australian WHS laws require employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and ensuring the health and safety of others associated with their business. The following steps must be taken:

  • You must create a workplace that is safe
  • You must ensure that your workplace structures and machinery are safe 
  • You must ensure that working conditions are safe
  • You must ensure that your employees are safely using and handling any workplace substances, machinery and structures
  • You must ensure that your workplace substances, structures and machinery are safely stored
  • You must ensure that you provide your employees with the necessary facilities and ensure that the facilities are maintained
  • You must ensure that your employees are provided with all the necessary training, information, instructions and supervision required to ensure their safety
  • You need to keep track of the health of your employees and workplace conditions

As an employer, you can use a WHS Policy to outline the WHS obligations of your business.  

Employee obligations

As an employer, you must inform your employees that they have the following WHS obligations in the workplace in relation to themselves and others:

  • You must inform employees that they’re required to look after their own health and safety
  • Employees are required to avoid doing anything that may cause harm to others
  • Employees are required to follow WHS instructions and the WHS policies and procedures of their workplace

Why the change from OHS to WHS?

Before 2012, WHS laws were known as OHS laws. These laws differed between Australian states and territories. The primary reason for the introduction of WHS legislation was to harmonise WHS laws across Australian states and territories.  

In July 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) signed the intergovernmental agreement, stating that using model legislation would be the most effective method of harmonising WHS legislation. This agreement outlined that states and territories would base their health and safety laws on the model. Safe Work Australia (SWA) is the national body responsible for developing WHS policy and maintaining model WHS laws. 

The initiative from SWA to harmonise OHS laws was a part of the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) National Reform Agenda. This initiative made it easier for businesses to implement health and safety regulations in the workplace.

In SWA’s exposure draft model for WHS, the term ‘work’ rather than ‘occupational’ was used to ‘apply more broadly to work, rather than only to occupations’. As a result, the definition of ‘workplace’ has extended the responsibilities of supervisors to also include temporary workers such as day labourers or contractors.

Conclusion

As an employer or employee, it’s crucial to be aware of WHS legislation. WHS laws are essential to keep your workplace, employees and other associated individuals healthy and safe.
If you’re unsure if your business is complying with WHS legislation, you should hire a lawyer to avoid legal consequences.

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