29 Mar 2012

Setting the course for OH&S policy and enforcement: the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy

by Shae McCartney, Joe Catanzariti

The draft Strategy sets specific targets for the reduction of work-related death, injury and illness over the next 10 years, and will be in place by mid-2012.

The draft Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022 has been released for comment. As the Strategy will set targets and priorities for regulators, this is an important opportunity to help shape OH&S for the next decade.

How will the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy operate?

The draft Strategy is a successor to the National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002–2012, which was endorsed by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Its ultimate goal is the "reduced incidence of work-related death, injury and illness achieved through:

  • reduced exposure to hazards or risks causing work-related injury and illness 
  • improved quality of workplace controls, and
  • improved work health and safety infrastructure."

To achieve these goals, it sets out specific targets and priorities, and seven areas in which action can be taken.

Once the Strategy is in place, Implementation Plans will be developed. There will also be a review of the Strategy and national priorities half-way through the Strategy's life (ie. in 2017)

The seven action areas for work health and safety and their outcomes

Action area: Healthy and safe by design


  • Structures, plant, equipment and substances are designed to eliminate or minimise hazards or risks before they are introduced into the workplace. 
  • Work and work processes and systems of work are designed and managed to eliminate or minimise hazards or risks

Action area: Supply chains and networks


  • All links along a supply chain and within a network understand their cumulative impact and actively improve the health and safety of the supply chain.
  • Commercial relations within the supply chains and networks are used to improve work health and safety.
  • Industry leaders champion health and safety in supply chains and networks.

Action area: Work health and safety capabilities


  • Everyone in a workplace, OH&S trainers, inspectors, and other staff of the regulators have the work health and safety capabilities they require, such as knowledge, experience, resources and skills.
  • Work health and safety skills development is appropriately integrated into relevant education and training programs.

Action area: Culture and leadership


  • Proactive communities and their leaders drive improved work health and safety.
  • Organisational leaders foster a culture of consultation and collaboration which actively improves health and safety.
  • Health and safety is given priority in all work processes and decisions.

Action area: Research and evaluation


  • Research and evaluation are targeted to provide the evidence to prioritise and progress areas of national interest. 
  • Australia has an effective research infrastructure and capacity.
  • Translating evidence to assist practical application.
  • The results of research are disseminated and implemented

Action area: Government


  • Work health and safety is actively considered in the development, implementation and evaluation of government policy.
  • Governments use their investment and purchasing power to improve work health and safety.
  • Governments exemplify good work health and safety.

Action area: Responsive regulatory framework


  • Legislation, policies and regulatory practice are reviewed and monitored to ensure they are responsive and effective.
  • Relationships between regulators and all who have a stake in work health and safety are effective, constructive, transparent and accountable.

Targets for work health and safety

The targets (to be developed and implemented by 2015) are: 

  • Work-related fatalities targets: a 20 percent reduction in the number of injury fatalities. 
  • Work-related injuries targets: a 30 percent reduction in incidence rates of all claims resulting in one or more weeks off work.
  • Body stressing injuries targets: a 30 percent reduction in the incidence rate of claims due to body stressing.

What are the priority sectors?

Broad industry groups identified as priorities for the reduction of the incidence of traumatic fatalities, injuries and illnesses by 2015 are:

  • Agriculture 
  • Transport
  • Manufacturing 
  • Construction, and 
  • Health

Sub-sectors will then be chosen during the development of the implementation plans for specific focus for three year periods during the life of the Strategy.

Priority work-related diseases or disorders

The priority work-related diseases or disorders are: 

  • musculoskeletal disorders 
  • mental disorders 
  • cancers (including skin cancer) 
  • asthma 
  • contact dermatitis, and 
  • noise induced hearing loss

In the next five years national targets to reduce the incidence of short latency diseases, and prevent exposure to the hazards which cause both short and long latency diseases, will be established.

What happens next?

Comments must be in by 5pm on Monday 21 May 2012. The new Strategy will be in force from mid-2012, and key stakeholders will either endorse it or express their commitment to its actions and targets.

This article was written when Joe was a partner at Clayton Utz and does not necessarily reflect his views as Vice-President of the Fair Work Commission.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.