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Every business in Australia is legally required to manage the health and safety of its employees, customers and clients in the workplace. A Work Health and Safety (WHS) policy, is a useful step towards doing just that.
Here, we take a look at how to write up your very own policy which will suit your business and its people.
What is a WHS policy?
A WHS policy in Australia outlines a businesses' general approach to health and safety in the workplace. It includes a breakdown of the systems and processes in place to manage the safety of employees and clients, along with information about who is responsible for mitigating risks in certain situations. All in all, it highlights a company's commitment to keeping its employees and customers safe.
Download this template at Lawpath
When should I use a WHS policy?
Ideally, a WHS policy should be put in place as soon as a business is operational, especially if the business has a significant number of employees. All of the states maintain different laws concerning the legalities behind a WHS policy. You can find out more about the rules and regulations in your state at business.gov.au.
WHS vs OHS
With so many terms denoting very similar things, knowing which is which and when to use them can be confusing. A Work Health and Safety policy (WHS) and an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) policy refer to exactly the same document, with the two names often used interchangeably. Technically speaking, a WHS policy is the most up-to-date term. This replaced the OHS policy due to legislation changes in 2012.
What does a WHS policy include?
A WHS policy is generally divided into three key sections that address the following:
- A company's aims and objectives in its Work Health and Safety policy,
- The people responsible for the organisation of health and safety in the workplace,
- How the business will manage risks in the workplace and any procedures that are in place to mitigate these risks.
How effective is a WHS policy?
A WHS policy is only as effective as you make it. By making sure that the policy is tailored specifically to your company's needs and is consistent with the business's overall objectives, you can create a useful and effective document.
Do I need a lawyer for a WHS policy?
While you may not need a lawyer to look over your WHS policy, it's worth seeking out professional help to have a final look over your document. A workplace safety lawyer can help you to tailor your WHS policy specifically to your business' needs and iron out any loopholes that may work against you further down the line.
Get access to customisable WHS policy templates online
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How do I write a WHS policy?
A WHS policy is unique to every business and should be considered carefully before being drafted. It should be written in simple English using specific and targetted language rather than sweeping statements.
As a general rule of thumb, business owners should consider including the following sections.
Statement of Intent
The first section of your WHS policy allows you to provide a general overview of your company's objectives concerning health and safety in the workplace.
Here, it's also useful to state how often the WHS policy will be reviewed and by who. It's common practice for the WHS policy to be reviewed and re-signed annually.
This initial section should be signed and dated by someone who holds a senior position in the company, preferably the business owner.
For inspiration on what this section might look like, check out this WHS policy template from Safework NSW.
Responsibilities for health and safety
Within this section, you should address the who, when and how part of your WHS policy. Essentially, this will name the roles and responsibilities of people within the business who will have specific responsibilities concerning health and safety in the workplace.
Generally speaking, the responsibility falls on senior staff such as directors and managers as well as trained professions such as engineers. However, it's also important to include a section that addresses the personal responsibilities of your employees as well.
Arrangements in place for health and safety
This will be perhaps the largest section of your policy. It should outline the details of the systems and procedures in place that allow your company to manage health and safety effectively. This can address several different subheadings, such as:
- Risk management
- Injury and incident reporting
- First aid
- Health and safety risk assessments
Where to get free legal documents and templates like a WHS policy
You can access a huge number of free WHS policy templates by searching around online. Below we've listed a few government resources and online legal marketplaces where you can get your hands on a WHS policy example.
- Lawpath. Part of a new wave of online legal resources which includes a WHS policy for Australia. You can view the document for free, but if you want to customise it you'll need to pay a one-time fee.
- Safework. A government resource that provides advice and information for businesses in Australia. You'll find a WHS policy template as well as state-specific advice on their advice pages.
- LegalVision. Sign up for a monthly membership or pay a one-time fee to get your hands on a WHS policy template.
- Business.gov.au. Another government resource with general advice about WHS policies and what to include in them.
Do you need a Work Health and Safety policy for COVID-19/Coronavirus?
It's not yet a legal requirement to have a separate health and safety policy in place for COVID-19, but it can be a useful tool for many businesses for several reasons:
- It displays a businesses' commitment to the health and safety of its employees and customers.
- It provides guidance for employees and customers as to what steps they can take to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in the workplace.
- It details the actions that a business will take if a member of staff needs to self-isolate, and what this means for the rest of the team.
Remember, the situation is constantly evolving, and both local and national boards are introducing new laws and regulations all of the time. Try to keep up to date with the latest measures on Coronavirus and adapt your policy accordingly.
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