This guidance aims to help employers improve their workplace health and safety. It may help them meet their occupational health and safety obligations.
Take a proactive approach
WorkSafe expects employers to take a proactive approach to improve health and safety. A proactive approach includes looking at ways to better identify and control hazards before they cause an incident, injury, illness or disease.
The ways of getting help outlined in this guidance include:
contacting WorkSafe and unions and employer, trade and industry associations
developing the necessary occupational health and safety (OHS) expertise and knowledge in-house
employing or engaging a suitably qualified person to provide OHS advice
Help from WorkSafe
The following information provides details about help available from WorkSafe.
The WorkSafe Advisory Service provides a range of free services. These include:
answering general OHS inquiries
providing guidance to employers about their legal obligations
providing advice to employees, including what to do if they are injured
providing advice to employers on WorkSafe policies
providing advice on WorkSafe premiums, return to work and rehabilitation
providing advice about WorkSafe publications
providing guidance about licences to perform high-risk work and construction induction
WorkSafe Advisory Service
WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.
WorkSafe inspectors help employers with workplace health and safety and help them comply with OHS laws. Inspectors can:
provide advice on employer and employee responsibilities and rights
supply practical guidance on hazard identification and risk controls
promote consultation between employers and employees in health and safety matters
Inspectors inspect workplaces to ensure they are complying with OHS laws. During their inspections, WorkSafe inspectors may issue improvement, prohibition or non-disturbance notices or give directions. They can also issue infringement notices or official warnings for certain offences and carry out other enforcement and compliance activities.
Members of the public and people in a workplace can ask WorkSafe to send an inspector to attend a workplace to enquire into an alleged failure to follow Victoria's OHS laws. The nature and circumstances of the request may determine whether an inspector will attend.
More information about inspectors and enforcement is available on the WorkSafe website.
WorkSafe has publications designed to help workplaces improve their health and safety and to help employers meet their OHS legal duties and responsibilities.
Some publications target specific industries and occupations. Others focus on broader topics relevant to all industries, such as:
managing health and safety
WorkSafe policies and procedures
Publications produced by WorkSafe and available on the WorkSafe website include the following:
Industry-specific information that pinpoints where people get hurt at work. Injury hotspots provide practical solutions to help make workplaces safe.
Short guidance material that describes a work practice or something at work that is dangerous and needs immediate corrective action.
Short guidance material that provides health and safety information on particular topics.
Checklists, worksheets and other items to help complete a task.
Supporting documents such as presentations, posters and information sheets on particular topics.
Short booklets that provide general introductory information on a given health and safety topic in an industry.
Further publications, including handbooks
Guidance materials that will help employers understand OHS requirements. For example, handbooks, WorkSafe annual reports and summaries of prosecutions.
Health and safety solutions
Short safety solutions for a particular topic.
Documents that need to be completed and returned to WorkSafe or a related organisation. For example, applying for a licence.
Documents designed to help employers comply with the law.
Short documents that provide WorkSafe's interpretations of specific terms and requirements under OHS law. For example, How WorkSafe applies the law in relation to reasonably practicable.
Laws and regulations
Information about health and safety Acts and regulations and your responsibilities.
OHS consulting service for small businesses
Victorian small and medium businesses with a WorkCover insurance policy are eligible for a free OHS consultancy through WorkSafe's OHS Essentials program. An independent OHS consultant will visit the workplace, help identify hazards and provide a tailored safety action plan. The consultant will also provide a follow-up service to check on progress with the plan.
The consultant will explain the employer's obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and provide an overview of obligations under the Victorian Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013.
Apply for WorkSafe Victoria's OHS Essentials program on the WorkSafe website or by the WorkSafe Advisory Service.
The WorkWell Toolkit is a free online tool. It helps employers reduce mental injury and promote safe and mentally healthy workplaces.
The toolkit uses a step-by-step approach to support workplace leaders. It helps them make improvements to create environments where employees can thrive.
The toolkit provides information and resources from trusted organisations such as Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute and more. As well, the toolkit has information and advice tailored to your industry type and business size. It covers topics such as:
working alone or in isolation
If you are a workplace leader, reduce the risk of mental injury and help create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Sign up for the WorkWell Toolkit today.
Help from unions
Unions provide a range of OHS support to their members. This support includes advice, representation, information and training. Unions also encourage employers and employees to consult each other to improve health and safety in the workplace.
Health and safety representatives (HSRs) can also seek assistance from union officials to help resolve OHS issues. For more information, see the WorkSafe publication, Employee representation.
Authorised representatives of registered employee organisations such as unions have workplace entry rights. They can enter workplaces to inquire into suspected breaches of the OHS Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations). For more information, see WorkSafe's guidance, Guide to right of entry by authorised representatives.
The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) OHS Unit supports affiliated unions and their members. It provides advice and assistance to unions and their members, including training, information and policies. The unit helps coordinate health and safety campaigns and works with WorkSafe to improve standards, policies and programs. The unit has a website for OHS representatives. Funded by WorkSafe, the website has information on legislation and hazards. It also offers a free subscription to the fortnightly electronic newsletter, SafetyNet.
Help from employer, trade and industry groups
Many employer, trade and industry associations provide OHS support to their members. Services include advice, information, consultation, representation and training. The associations also promote and support workplace consultation between employers and employees to improve workplace health and safety.
Employer, trade and industry associations work with WorkSafe to improve standards, policies and programs.
Contact your employer, trade or industry association to see how they can help you.
Services and support from WorkSafe agents
WorkSafe Agents provide a range of OHS prevention services and support to workplaces. Services include risk management and return-to-work advice. Contact your agent for more information.
For a list of WorkSafe Agents, see the insurance and premium section on the WorkSafe website.
Build in-house OHS expertise
Some employers control OHS risks at their workplace by getting help from sources outlined in this guidance. Other employers may choose to build in-house OHS skills. In the long term, and depending on the workplace circumstances, using in-house OHS skills is a good way to improve workplace health and safety. Methods to improve in-house OHS skills include the following:
The education and training system offers a range of certificate, diploma and tertiary qualifications in OHS. Many workplaces have used these qualifications to build their in-house OHS skills. Training is available through tertiary institutions and registered training organisations. These include TAFE colleges, unions, employer associations and private training providers.
More information about training providers is available on the National Training Information Services website.
Effective OHS training for employees, supervisors and managers is good for business. Training improves skills, knowledge, productivity, morale and in-house OHS ability.
Improved OHS ability helps identify hazards and risks. It also helps identify control measures to reduce workplace incidents.
Employers must train employees so they can work safely and without risks to health. Supervisors and managers can also take part in training. Training can include, for example, instruction in:
the nature of hazards
the processes used for hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control
the need for and proper use of measures to control risk
the use, fit, testing and storage of personal protective equipment (PPE)
licences for high-risk work. For example, scaffolding, rigging, dogging, cranes, hoists, forklifts, boilers and pressure vessels, asbestos removal, working with carcinogens and major hazard facilities
specific risks, hazards and industries. For example, asbestos, lead, manual handling, major hazards, hazardous, construction, mining, confined spaces, explosives and traffic management
Specific training for supervisors and managers is available. WorkSafe provides guidance for persons representing employers in relation to resolving OHS issues. For more information, see WorkSafe's guidance, Employer representative competencies.
The size of the organisation and its resources will play a role in how it provides training. Training can take place in-house or through tertiary institutions and TAFE colleges, unions, employer associations and private training providers. More information about OHS training service providers is available on the WorkSafe website or contact the WorkSafe Advisory Service.
Employing or engaging a suitably qualified person
At times, there may be no-one at the workplace with the right skills or knowledge to identify and control hazards in the workplace. This is when employers should employ or engage a person who is suitably qualified in OHS to provide advice concerning the health and safety of employees.
Examples of when an employer might consider employing or engaging a suitably qualified person to provide advice on OHS include:
during periodic OHS reviews of business operations
when developing and implementing systems for the long-term management of OHS
when setting up OHS consultation and issue-resolution structures for the workplace
when planning to change the work premises, plant, substances or materials for use at work
when changes to legislation may affect the employer's industry, workplace, systems or processes
before changing work practices and systems of work
when setting up new operations or projects
before major shut down, decommissioning or demolition of premises or plant
when new OHS information becomes available from an authoritative source
when a hazardous exposure or incident, injury or illness reveals that risk control measures are not adequate
when an adverse result of environmental or health monitoring indicates that risk control measures are inadequate
when managing complex issues related to psychological health, such as bullying and stress
Employee or contractor?
Employers may need further advice to deal with health and safety risks at the workplace. In these cases, the next step is to decide whether to directly employ a person or engage them under a contract for services or another arrangement.
For example, if issues affecting employee health and safety are ongoing and complex, you might decide to employ an OHS coordinator. The OHS coordinator will provide advice on OHS matters in your workplace.
Alternatively, some employers may choose to bring in an external consultant on a one-off or as-needed basis.
The choice will depend on the nature and extent of the hazards and risks in the workplace. If you employ a person, you may still need to bring in other consultants at various times. No single OHS professional will have the answers to all problems.
Any person employed in-house or engaged as an external consultant to provide OHS advice must be suitably qualified.
Who is a suitably qualified person?
A 'suitably qualified' person is someone who has the knowledge, skills and experience to provide advice on the issues impacting the health and safety of employees.
The advice must reflect the current state of knowledge on OHS issues so employers can rely on the advice when controlling risks in the workplace. A suitably qualified person must be able to provide advice about:
the process of identifying hazards
implementing controls to eliminate or reduce the assessed risks
monitoring and reviewing controls
Assessing a suitably qualified person
The type of person required will depend on the type of workplace and its hazards. The following information lists matters to consider when assessing whether a person has the skills, knowledge and experience to be suitably qualified. Whether you are employing a person or engaging a consultant, take all relevant matters into account:
Can the person demonstrate they have completed education to obtain the relevant knowledge in OHS or a related field? If they do not have formal qualifications, can the person establish through alternate means that they understand the current state of knowledge on the issue and OHS principles and legislation?
Is the person able to explain what needs to be done to control any hazards or risks and can they write reports that are easy to understand? Does the person have adequate communications skills to work and consult with HSRs, managers and employees?
Is the person's approach consistent with the principle of ensuring the highest level of protection, so far as reasonably practicable? For example, the person should focus on the elimination of risks rather than lower-order controls such as using PPE or monitoring.
setting up structures and processes to ensure effective employee consultation
design, including plant and equipment, processes, jobs, tasks, workstations and workplaces
hazard identification and risk control
risk and hazard management
accident and incident investigation
health surveillance, health assessment and medical diagnosis, treatment and management
Consult HSRs and safety committees
Employers should consult HSRs and health and safety committees when appointing consultants. Consultation will give HSRs and health and safety committees an opportunity to discuss their concerns. It will also encourage further co-operation and support and may help decide the type of help required. If there are no HSRs, consult the employees involved in the issue or problem.
In some cases, you may need to engage more than one type of consultant, particularly in complex or high-risk situations.
There will usually be many consultants able to provide the service you need. Make inquiries with several to find the right consultant to suit your needs and workplace. A list of OHS professionals and their contact information is available under the heading, Where to find consultants.
Issues to consider
As well as considering the matters listed, employers should address the following issues when engaging a consultant:
Goods produced may involve ingredients or processes that are 'trade secrets'. Ensure contracts with consultants make clear the nature and extent of confidentiality. This will help protect your activities.
It is important to check the insurance of the consultant and the organisation the consultant represents. This insurance typically involves public liability and professional indemnity insurance. It may also include workers' compensation and other insurances.
As an employer, you want your consultant to work with integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. Many professional bodies and associations have a code of ethics, code of practice or professional standards. They expect their members to adhere to these standards in their work. A copy may be obtained from the consultant or the professional body or association. If the consultant is not affiliated with a professional body or association, it is important the consultant explains any important ethical issues.
When drawing up an agreement with a consultant, address the question of ownership of material. Many employers regard written material produced under contract as the company’s property. If you do, it is important the consultant understands this point.
Ask the consultant if they have a process for resolving conflicts. Professional bodies or associations usually have a system for dealing with complaints and resolving disputes involving members.
Letting an OHS consultant know what you want
No matter what approach you adopt, it is important to have a written agreement in place before a consultant starts work. To get the best results from engaging a consultant, consider the following points:
Describe the problems and issues that need to be addressed, preferably in a written brief. Provide a clear statement about what you hope to achieve at the workplace. The consultant can then provide a written proposal to the brief for consideration and approval.
Outline what resources are available at the workplace and what the consultant will need to provide. Clearly explain the budget.
Routinely check the timetable established when work began.
Check the consultant's work is consistent with the requirements of the contract.
Receive the service you need
A well-prepared written proposal, along with regular review and monitoring while the consultant is doing their work, will help ensure you receive the service you need.
Once the consultant has finished work, the employer should consider the following questions:
Has a practical, sensible solution to the problem been provided?
Has the consultant provided something over the top, for example, lots of useless paperwork? If so, ask the consultant for an explanation and to advise whether there is a better, simplified alternative.
Has the consultant provided good follow-up support? For example, has the consultant made sure any recommendations have been properly understood?
Has the consultant adequately answered any questions about implementing recommendations?
Engaging or employing a person for help and advice does not guarantee employers meet their legal duties and responsibilities under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.
Employers cannot transfer or delegate legal duties and responsibilities to a consultant. If an employer is found to be in breach of their duties, it is not a defence to have relied on the advice or recommendations of a consultant.
For these reasons, it is important that employers who employ or engage a person for advice stay actively involved in OHS issues, including monitoring and reviewing risk controls.
General OHS professionals have qualifications and training in general OHS. Many also have further training, education and expertise in particular areas of OHS. It is important to ensure a consultant is competent in the particular OHS service area before engaging them.
The Australian Institute of Health and Safety is the professional body for many general OHS professionals and its website includes a database of practitioners.
Occupational hygiene is the scientific and technical approach to the identification, assessment and control of chemical, physical and biological factors that adversely affect the health of people at work. Occupational hygienists know about OHS law and understand the principles of hazard control, including process modification, ventilation and PPE and associated administrative measures.
Some of the environmental factors associated with work and work operations that may adversely affect health include:
hazardous substances such as dusts, gases and fumes
Occupational hygienists can recognise these factors and work out methods to eliminate, reduce or control them to lessen their adverse effects.
The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) is the professional body for occupational hygienists. To contact a consultant occupational hygienist, use the consultant search service on the AIOH website.
Ergonomists use scientific and technical knowledge about human capabilities, functions and requirements to look at the design of jobs, systems, machinery and equipment and the environment where work is done. They aim to match the work to the needs of people for safety, productivity and work satisfaction. An organisation can use the services of an ergonomist for a wide range of problems and issues, including:
advice on new buildings and renovations and the working environment. For example, the physical environment and workplace layout
the design of tasks, jobs and work practices
workplace assessment, including layout, design and work processes
recognising environmental factors associated with work and work operations that may harm health. For example, noise, vibration and lighting
determining methods to eliminate, reduce or control those environmental factors
investigation and prevention of accidents, injuries or diseases
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society of Australia (HFESA) is the professional organisation of ergonomists and human factors specialists in Australia. A certified member is designated as a certified professional ergonomist or CPE. Contact a CPE through the HFESA website.
General practitioners and occupational health nurses perform most occupational medicine. Occupational health nurses are skilled in workplace injury prevention, injury and illness management and health surveillance. Medical practitioners provide independent medical opinions on issues such as fitness to perform particular work duties, work-related medical conditions and impairment assessment.
Medical practitioners and occupational health nurses with additional qualifications, background, interests or specialities in occupational medicine are available through the Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine (ANZSOM).
Occupational medicine looks at the influence of work on people's health, as well as the effect of a person’s health on work. Occupational and environmental physicians are skilled in the investigation and diagnosis of work-related and environment-related conditions. They can provide a comprehensive approach to the management and prevention of injury, illness and disease. To find an occupational and environmental physician, contact the Australasian Faculty of Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
Professional engineers apply skills in the analysis and knowledge of science, engineering, technology, management and social responsibility to problem solving in new and existing fields. Disciplines include chemical, mechanical, civil, electrical, environmental and risk engineering. Engineers Australia is the professional body representing engineers of all disciplines. Visit the Engineers Australia website to contact a professional engineer.
The WorkSafe website provides links to OHS professional bodies and associations with professional members who provide consulting services. Unions and employer, trade and industry associations can also help find an OHS consultant.
The VTHC has a list of consultants who have signed its code of conduct. For more information, see the VTHC OHS Unit website.
Some employer groups and industry associations directly provide OHS consulting services.
Sometimes other professionals, such as dangerous goods specialists, psychologists or architects, are necessary to address specific OHS issues, such as the design of plant, buildings and structures. Contact these professionals through their professional association or body.