What is harmonisation? Harmonisation is an endeavour to create consistent WHS (Work Health and Safety) legislation across the states, territories and Commonwealth in Australia.

Why is it taking place? WHS legislation is periodically reviewed. Whilst we have had minor changes to our law it has been a long time since our last major update. In Western Australia our Occupational Safety and Health Act was passed in 1984.  Workplace arrangements have changed significantly in that time. The nature of employment is quite different to how it was in the 80’s. Today we see a greater proportion of franchising arrangements, sole traders, working from home arrangements and the like. Consider this statistic from the Australian Bureau of Statistics ‘At June 2013, there were 815,368 ‘Employing’ businesses and 1,264,298 ‘Non-employing’ businesses.’ http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/8165.0

Not only has the ‘nature’ of employment changed, but also the factors affecting work health and safety. Today there is a  greater focus on health related factors such as stress and bullying.

What are the benefits? The intention is the create legislation that accurately reflects what is happening in industry and facilitates improvements in workplace health and safety.

It is  important to note that the legislative powers of the Australian Parliament are set out in the Commonwealth Constitution. The Commonwealth Constitution does not give the Commonwealth a general power to legislate for work health and safety.  Therefore each State, Territory and the Commonwealth must enact their own legislation.

Organisations operating in more than one State or Territory were historically required to comply with the legislation applicable to their region of operation. Harmonious laws will allow organisations to develop health and safety management systems that meet compliance with legislation across the country. This in turn will create a ‘level playing field’ for businesses. For example, if one State/ Territory has more relaxed WHS legislation there is potential for that State / Territory to attract a greater proportion of business.