WorkSafe inspectors and enforcement: Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

This guidance explains Part 9 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, Inspectors and enforcement. The information will benefit employers and others with duties and responsibilities to health and safety in the workplace.


Constructive compliance

WorkSafe is the key regulator and enforcer of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws in Victoria. It aims to reduce work-related incidents, injuries, disease and death through 'constructive compliance', a prevention strategy that balances positive motivation with strong deterrents. WorkSafe's inspectors target unsafe workplace activity, respond to notifiable incidents and deal with alleged health and safety issues and breaches of health and safety laws. Inspectors also provide guidance and advice on how to comply with health and safety laws and encourage cooperative and consultative relationships between employers and employees and their representatives.

Health and safety laws

WorkSafe administers Victoria’s health and safety laws, which include the following Acts and corresponding regulations:

  • Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act)
  • Dangerous Goods Act 1985 (DG Act)
  • Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994 (EPS Act)

These Acts set out key principles, duties and rights relating to health and safety. They also allow for the appointment of inspectors and give them the powers to inspect, give advice, investigate and enforce health and safety laws.

Protecting employees and others

In general terms Victoria's health and safety laws aim to:

  • secure the health, safety and welfare of employees and other people at work
  • eliminate risks to the health, safety and welfare of employees, including contractors, and the public
  • ensure the activities of employers and self-employed persons do not place risks on the health and safety of members of the public
  • involve employers and employees and their representatives in workplace health and safety issues
  • promote and protect the safety of all people from risks associated with dangerous goods, hazardous substances and high-risk plant and equipment

Role of WorkSafe inspectors

The primary role of WorkSafe inspectors is to ensure employers and other duty holders comply with health and safety laws. Inspectors do this by:

  • conducting strategically targeted inspections or in response to reported health and safety issues
  • providing practical, helpful information and guidance to duty holders about how to fulfil their duties and obligations
  • enforcing Victoria's health and safety laws by:
    • making duty holders take action to fix health and safety breaches
    • recommending comprehensive investigations to decide whether a breach of health and safety laws has occurred requiring prosecution or other action
    • gathering data that can help prevent future OHS breaches

Commitment to health and safety

WorkSafe's inspectors encourage:

  • duty holders' commitment to a planned approach to health and safety
  • duty holders' commitment to continuous improvement of health and safety
  • effective workplace communication and meaningful employee involvement at all levels
  • control of risks at their source
  • appropriate provision of training, information, instruction and supervision
  • workplaces to make health and safety considerations a core part of their operations

When do inspections occur?

An inspector will inspect a workplace to ensure it is complying Victoria's OHS laws in the following circumstances:

Inspectors' powers

WorkSafe inspectors have a range of powers to ensure employers and other duty holders comply with health and safety laws:

Inspectors' obligations

WorkSafe inspectors have obligations they must fulfil when performing their duties:

Enforcement action

Before deciding whether to take enforcement action, the inspector will make enquiries with the duty holder or their nominated representative, appropriate HSRs and other relevant parties.

The inspector should also enquire into the duty holder's overall systems of work and consider whether the identified breach happened because of a failure of these systems. The inspector should take action to address identified faults in the duty holder's systems of work.

Inspectors will take an escalating approach, both in using corrective tools to make sure duty holders comply with the law, and in deciding whether to take action for failure to comply. In deciding the most appropriate action, inspectors will pay careful attention to WorkSafe's regulatory model and consider:

  • the nature and circumstances of the alleged breach
  • the characteristics of the duty holder
  • other relevant requirements

Enforcement measures

Where inspectors detect a failure to comply with health and safety laws they will generally issue a notice or direction for the duty holder to address the non-compliance.

Inspectors can use the following enforcement measures to resolve an alleged breach:

  • issue an improvement notice requiring the breach to be fixed by a certain date
  • issue a prohibition notice where there is an immediate risk and the activity must stop until the risk is removed
  • direct that a certain action be taken where an immediate risk exists or if the inspector deems the action appropriate
  • confirmation of a PIN or a direction to stop work

Inspectors will generally issue a prohibition notice if they have a reasonable belief that there is an immediate risk to health or safety.

An improvement notice will generally be appropriate where an inspector considers an activity does not involve an immediate risk but requires corrective steps to comply with OHS laws. Both notices carry the same penalty for failure to comply.

Inspectors may also issue a non-disturbance notice, where appropriate.

Referrals for investigations

Before deciding whether to prosecute against an alleged offender, WorkSafe will carry out a comprehensive investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to confirm whether an offence has occurred that requires prosecution or alternative enforcement action.

Information from a range of sources can result in WorkSafe deciding to conduct a comprehensive investigation, including:

  • investigations referred from inspectors, usually from planned inspection programs and projects. Some referrals also arise from incident responses and inspector responses to service requests
  • fatalities, serious injuries and other notifiable incidents reported to WorkSafe
  • applications under section 131 of the OHS Act, Procedure if prosecution not brought
  • referrals and requests from external agencies, including the Environment Protection Authority, firefighting agencies, the Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police and the State Coroner

Inspector referrals

Inspectors will generally recommend a comprehensive investigation when they consider an investigation is appropriate, taking into account:

  • when other avenues for achieving compliance have failed or are insufficient
  • whether in some cases simply achieving compliance is insufficient and further action may be appropriate
  • the seriousness of the incident

Criteria for a comprehensive investigation

When considering whether to carry out a comprehensive investigation, WorkSafe must consider its OHS compliance and enforcement policy, general prosecution guidelines and strategic enforcement priorities.

Monitoring and reviewing inspectors' decisions

A range of systems ensure inspectors appropriately exercise their powers under health and safety laws and in line with WorkSafe's policies and guidelines:

More information