Health and safety laws

Victoria's occupational health and safety laws aim to make workplaces safer and prevent work-related deaths, injury and disease.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (called the OH&S Act for short) covers most workplaces in Victoria including offices, hospitals, schools, factories, construction sites, farms, forests, boats, vehicles and any place where employees or self-employed people work. The mining and petroleum industries and Commonwealth government workplaces are covered by separate health and safety laws.

The Government, employers and unions developed the OH&S Act through talking and working together.

The Act allows employers and employees to deal with workplace health and safety through consultation (discussion) and co-operation (team work). Consultation between employers and employees in workplaces is very important. The Act encourages discussion, particularly through employee health and safety representatives and joint health and safety committees, made up of both management and employee representatives.

Under the Act, everyone involved with work has responsibilities for occupational health and safety.

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations

Regulations are laws made by government to support Acts – in other words, to set out more detailed requirements which will help to an Act to achieve its objectives.

The OH&S Act is supported by the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007, which make specific requirements in regard to hazards, including:

  • manual handling
  • noise
  • plant
  • prevention of falls
  • hazardous substances
  • asbestos
  • lead.

Hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control is made compulsory for employers in all workplaces by the Regulations.

The Regulations also address things like the issuing of licences for erecting scaffolds, operating cranes and forklifts and other potentially dangerous work.

Key point: Regulations are laws to protect people from occupational injury and disease. Every workplace in Victoria must obey all the laws relevant to their work.

The OH&S Act and Regulations are legally enforceable, and employers can be prosecuted if they do not meet their obligations.

These laws give every person in every workplace a right to be involved in health and safety through a process of consultation and co-operation. They also provide penalties for any employer or employee who tries to prevent this process from happening.

Key point: Employers and employees should work together to eliminate hazards and to find practical ways to protect the health and safety of everyone in the workplace, including members of the public.

Duty of care

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 contains sections that describe the responsibilities of:

  • employers
  • employees
  • self-employed persons
  • persons who have control of workplaces (e.g. owners or managers)
  • persons who manufacturer or supply plant (machinery or equipment tools) and substances used at work
  • persons who design or construct buildings and structures.

These responsibilities are known as 'duties of care'. The duty of care applies to each person 'as far as is reasonably practicable'.

'Practicable' means reasonable measures must be taken, bearing in mind:

  • the severity of any injury or harm to health that may occur
  • the likelihood of the injury or harm occurring
  • how much is known about the hazard and the ways of reducing, removing or controlling it, and
  • the availability, suitability and cost of safeguards.