Work Health and Safety (WHS) and Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) are important health and safety regulations for the workplace that businesses must follow. However, there is some confusion as to how they are similar and how they are different.

In this guide, we’ll discuss what the difference is between WHS and OH&S and what they mean for your business.

What is WHS and OH&S?

Fundamentally, WHS and OH&S share the same meaning. WHS was a term adopted after January 2012 following the harmonisation of various OH&S laws across Australian states and territories. WHS involves the assessment and mitigation of risks that may impact the health, safety or welfare of the workplace. This may include the health and safety of customers, employees, contractors, volunteers and suppliers. Examples of common practices in work health and safety include:

  • Providing a safe workplace
  • Assessing the workplace layout and providing safe systems of work
  • Having insurance and workers’ compensation insurance for employees

Essentially, OH&S shares the same meaning of WHS. An agreement between Australian states and territories introduced the term ‘WHS’ for the first time. The aim of the agreement was to create a model WHS law. All states and territories would base their health and safety laws on the model.

Business owners have legal responsibility to put in place health and safety practices in the workplace according to WHS law. These come into effect as soon as you start your business and hire employees. Although WHS has harmonised a majority of existing OH&S law across Australia, separate authorities and legislation exist for each state and territory.

Why the change from OH&S to WHS?

Before 2012, WHS laws were known as OH&S laws. These laws varied for Australian states and territories. In 2012, the state and territory governments agreed to develop model laws to promote health and safety in the workplace.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) is the national body responsible for developing WHS policy and maintaining model WHS laws. The initiative from SWA to harmonise OH&S 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 responsibilities of supervisors to also include temporary workers such as day labourers or contractors.

To ensure your business is complying with work health and safety laws, speak to a workplace safety lawyer.

Have more questions? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

Christopher Cruz

Chris is a legal intern at LawPath, and is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws at Macquarie University. He is interested in commercial and IT law.