Occupational health and safety laws Australia-wide are to be ‘harmonised’ from January 1, 2012 to ensure standardised occupational health and safety laws in each Australian state and territory.

The changes will be achieved through the adoption of the Model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act (model act) by all states and territories, although not all have committed to the concept as yet.

South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales all have passed the necessary legislation, while Western Australia has indicated that it will adopt most but not all of the model act and the remaining states, territories and the Commonwealth are expected to introduce legislation before the end of the year.

While it draws on existing workplace health and safety laws, the new act changes the manner in which businesses, their employees and workplace representatives interact to protect and promote health and safety in the workplace.

As a consequence, ‘harmonisation’ will require different degrees of change from each state and territory.

In many cases, businesses and management will have more onerous obligations in the provision of workplace health and safety than under previous legislation.