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Irish Chamber

Victorian Codes of Practice for Safe Work – A Blunder?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Guest Blog and opinion piece by Cathal Uniacke, Principal at Custodian Safety Services, where he explores the impact that the Victorian government’s refusal to accept the national harmonisation of all OHS laws across Australia has on Victorian businesses.

After the OHS Act and Regulations, WorkSafe Victoria’s key OHS documents are its Compliance Codes. The declaration of the 2007 OHS Regulations, 8 new compliance codes were declared in September 2008: Workplace amenities and work environment, Communicating Occupational Health And Safety Across Languages, First aid in the workplace, Prevention of falls in general construction, Managing asbestos in workplaces, Removing asbestos in workplaces, Confined spaces, and Foundries.
However, the promise of more to come never materialised, as the work was redirected to developing national Codes of Practice. And here is the irony – WorkSafe Victoria employees invested considerable time and effort to develop nationally recognised work health and safety guidance, but because of Victoria’s failure to adopt the harmonised laws, the value of this work effort is lost to Victoria.

As of the current date, Safe Work Australia has adopted 23 national Codes of Practice which provide guidance for implementing best-practice work health and safety across a spectrum of generic workplace obligations and specific high-risk work activities. A further 12 are set to be declared by 30 June 2014, with more still under development.

Meanwhile, Victoria languishes, with the WorkSafe website still linking to 7 Codes of Practice created under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 – an Act repealed a full decade ago! These relate to some of the most significant areas of workplace safety, such as plant, construction, demolition and hazardous substances – and most are old enough to vote.

The oldest, Safety Precautions In Trenching Operations, dates from 1988, and begs the question: would you prefer to rely on a document issued over a quarter of a century ago, under legislation which is not in force in this State, or one issued in 2012 (the Safe Work Australia Excavation Work Code of Practice,) under another piece of legislation which is not in force in this State? Similar questions can be asked in respect of the Codes of Practice for Building and Construction Workplaces (1990,) Demolition (1991,) and Plant (1995.)

Importantly, the Safe Work Australia Codes of Practice specifically refer to legal obligations laid down in the harmonised Work Health and Safety Act and Regulations, down to the specific Act or Regulation number. These references are not applicable in Victoria unless and until it adopts the harmonised laws – a powerful argument, in my view, for their adoption here as in all other jurisdictions.


* Guest blog authorship is open to IACC members only. 

Guest Blog