OHS to WHS; Do They Mean The Same Thing?

OHS to WHS; Do They Mean The Same Thing?

Yes – Both OHS (Occupational Health and Safety) and WHS (Workplace Health and Safety) are used to describe the same thing.

If you meet someone using the two (2) terms interchangeably, the person is not out of place.

Lets go a bit deeper in defining the terminologies individually.


OHS (Occupational Health and Safety)

Before 2012, WHS laws were known as OHS laws. They involved the various laws for maintaining health and safety in the workplace by each Australian state and territory. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2006 is a state based law that codifies the responsibilities of employers, employees, officers, and contractors in regards to safe conduct at work.

WHS (Workplace Health and Safety)

After 2012, WHS was the term adopted to describe the laws for the health and safety of people at work. WHS is a federal law arising from the ratification of Work Health and Safety Regulations by all states and territories. The regulations apply consistently across Australia, whereas it was previously varied between states and territories with OH&S laws.

Current WHS obligations for employers include responsibilities to:

  • Identify hazards in the workplace;
  • Assess risks and implement measures to control them;
  • Provide and maintain safe plans, structures, systems of work etc;
  • Provide safety equipment, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) where required;
  • Provide workers with a WHS induction, training, and supervision where necessary;
  • Monitor the health conditions of employees to avoid illness and injury.

Safe Work Australia is the national body responsible for developing WHS policy. They drafted the term ‘work’ opposed to ‘occupational’ to ensure their policies applied more broadly to work than specific occupations. It extends the responsibilities of supervisors to include temporary workers like contractors.

READ: Safe Work Environment Law

In summary “OHS to WHS” the aim is the same, they both mean the set of conditions and activities created by any organisation to ensure the safety and welfare of their employees.


Early Attempts to achieve harmonisation of WHS laws

The National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC), carried out the early work in relation to harmonisation of WHS laws. The NOHSC was a tripartite body that included representatives from Commonwealth, state and territory Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulators. In the 1980s, the NOHSC developed:

  • National Standards
  • National Codes of Practice

The National Standards did not have legal status and were not enforceable unless a jurisdiction adopted them into their OHS regulations. This led to significant differences nationwide regarding which protocols were adopted, how jurisdictions drafted and applied them, and whether they were adopted as a code of practice or regulation.

Despite these difficulties, significant improvements in consistency were achieved in the areas of hazardous chemicals, occupational licensing and noise.

Agreement to make model WHS laws

At the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council (WRMC) on 1 February 2008, Ministers agreed model legislation was the most effective way to harmonise WHS laws.

In July 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAGsigned the intergovernmental agreement (IGA) on how the Commonwealth, states and territories would achieve this.

READ: List Of Health And Safety Legislation

The agreement was to make and implement:

  • a model Act and Regulations
  • model Codes of Practice
  • a National Compliance and Enforcement Policy
  • an independent body to drive the model laws’ development and implementation (Safe Work Australia).

Making the model WHS laws involved a consultation process, including:

  • an exposure draft bill
  • a regulation impact statement (RIS) – in line with COAG guidelines.


Implementing WHS Laws

The Commonwealth, Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland implemented the model WHS laws in their jurisdiction on 1 January 2012. South Australia and Tasmania implemented the model WHS laws on 1 January 2013. On 10 November 2020, Western Australia passed a version of the model laws, which became operational on 31 March 2022. Victoria is the only jurisdiction who has not implemented the model WHS laws.