Work health and safety

Articles Written by Ruveni Kelleher (Partner), Katelyn Iacono (Associate)
Image of a pair of safety goggles.

In Australia, work health and safety (WHS) (otherwise referred to as occupational health and safety) is governed by a national regime. State based legislation reflects the ‘model law’ as developed by Safe Work Australia, under which employers generally have an obligation to protect workers and other persons from harm by eliminating or minimising risk in the workplace.

In recent changes, Victoria has amended the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic) to recognise labour hire workers as employees of their host employer, meaning they are entitled to health and safety protections which are comparable to other employees in their workplace.

Further, Western Australia has moved to modernise its regime to conform to the national model law by introduction of the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WA).

Psychological safety and wellbeing have become more prominent features of WHS regulation and compliance. In early 2021, Safe Work Australia released new national guidance on preventing and responding to workplace sexual harassment. The guide characterises sexual harassment as a workplace hazard, known to cause psychological and physical risks to health and safety. Organisations are encouraged to review their workplace practices and WHS policies to ensure that they appropriately address and safeguard their workers against workplace sexual harassment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a number of challenges with respect to WHS regulation and compliance. The Federal Government has mandated vaccination for workers in the aged care, health, education and child care, air travel and airport, transport and quarantine sectors.

However, the ability for employers to mandate vaccination in other sectors remains unclear. Federal and State governments have indicated that the majority of organisations will be unable to require their workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Guidance released by Safe Work Australia and the Fair Work Ombudsman has also emphasised that any mandatory vaccination requirement must be assessed on a case by case basis. The weight to be given to various factors in decision making is highly dynamic as the COVID-19 situation evolves.

Many organisations are implementing incentive programs to encourage employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Johnson Winter & Slattery has extensive experience is assisting clients to implement incentive programs or mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for workplaces.

Important Disclaimer: The material contained in this article is comment of a general nature only and is not and nor is it intended to be advice on any specific professional matter. In that the effectiveness or accuracy of any professional advice depends upon the particular circumstances of each case, neither the firm nor any individual author accepts any responsibility whatsoever for any acts or omissions resulting from reliance upon the content of any articles. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this publication, we recommend that you consult your professional adviser. Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation (Australia-wide except in Tasmania).

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