Do you need a WHS policy?

Do you need a WHS policy?
By Gaby Grammeno on 28 November 2017 Do we need a WHS policy and, if so, when should we update it? 

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Our company developed an OHS policy quite a few years ago. Since then, we’ve purchased new equipment and changed our work processes, and we also have a lot of new staff who were not with us when the policy was developed. Do we have to consult with all staff in reviewing and revising the policy? 

A It’s a common misconception that all businesses must have a WHS (or OHS) policy. In fact, there is no requirement in the Work Health and Safety Act or Regulations for all organisations to have a WHS policy. 

The only type of workplace required by WHS law to have a safety policy is a major hazard facility – that is, a location such as an oil refinery, a chemical plant or an extensive fuel or chemical storage site where large quantities of hazardous materials are stored, handled or processed. Major hazard facilities must have a documented safety management system stating the operator’s safety policy, among other things.

Similarly, in Victoria, an OHS policy is mandatory for major hazard facilities and also for mines, but not for other types of businesses.

In Western Australia, there is no requirement for a policy under occupational safety and health legislation.

Nevertheless, despite the lack of an explicit legal obligation, engaging workers in formulating a health and safety policy can be a worthwhile exercise, as long as the policy is backed up by a genuine, demonstrated commitment to a safe and healthy workplace.

A policy need not be long or detailed – in most cases, it is sufficient for the policy to express the organisation’s broad aim of removing or minimising health and safety risks to workers, contractors, visitors and anyone else who may be affected by the work activities, such as neighbouring premises and the local community. It should also express a commitment to ongoing improvement in all aspects of health and safety.

If there is a WHS or OHS policy, it is important to make sure employees and contractors are made aware of it. While they are at work, they have a legal obligation to co-operate with any reasonable health and safety policy or procedure of the person conducting the business or undertaking, provided the workers have been notified about the policy or procedure. 

If you have an existing policy, it is certainly advisable to review it (and revise it if necessary) when the circumstances or activities of the organisation have changed in a way that could have health or safety implications. 

Staff could be involved in the process of reviewing the WHS policy in informal ways, for example, by displaying a copy of the policy in all sections of the workplace, drawing workers’ attention to it in the course of routine interactions, and inviting their comments. Any input received from staff should be taken into consideration when management is deciding whether the policy needs updating, and staff should be informed of the outcome.

Ultimately, however, the policy and its wording – and the actions and resources necessary to give practical effect to the policy – are the responsibility of senior management.

See also: Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (NO. 137, 2011) - SECT 28 Duties of workers 

Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld), Chapter 9 Major hazard facilities and Schedule 17 – additional matters to be included in safety management system of major hazard facility 
 
Need more help with WHS/OHS management?

Australian Business Consulting and Solutions has a dedicated team of WHS/OHS experts who can assist you with your specific WHS/OHS issues and problems. If you would like a free and obligation-free initial assessment of what you require in terms of professional assistance, you can obtain more information from our website.

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