Codes of Practice – Interpreting and transitioning

It is highly recommended that if you are a duty holder under health and safety legislation, you use the codes of practice developed by Safe Work Australia to comply with your statutory obligations.

In this article we will look at how to interpret them and tell you about the transitioning approach that your WHS regulator is going to use to help you get used to your new obligations.

Remember that the model codes of practice are based on existing guidance provided by safety regulators in each jurisdiction – these existing jurisdictional codes will remain in place of any draft codes of practice until replacement model codes of practice are approved by the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council.

How to interpret a code of practice

When reading through the codes of practice, the following words will be used quite frequently and here is how to interpret them:

‘should’ is used to indicate a recommended course of action;
‘may’ is used to indicate an optional course of action; and
‘must’, ‘requires’ or ‘mandatory’ indicate that a legal requirement exists and must be complied with.
The codes of practice also include various references to sections of the WHS Act and Regulations which set out the legal requirements (these references are not comprehensive).

Transitioning to new requirements in model codes of practice

Transitional arrangements under the WHS legislation will allow duty holders in each jurisdiction a period of time to make necessary adjustments in order to comply with any new requirements they may have.

What does the transitioning policy outline?

The transitioning policy provides information about the approach that jurisdictional safety regulators will take to assist you to transition to your new requirements.

You can access the policy for transitioning to new requirements in approved codes of practice by clicking on the link.

The policy states that,

“To help duty holders to transition to any new safety practices, processes and control measures recommended in approved Codes of Practice, inspectors will use the guidance provided in the Codes to assist duty holders to achieve compliance.

Where new approved Codes of Practice are in place, regulators understand that a period of adjustment is required for duty holders to gain an understanding of the detail in a Code of Practice and how it applies to activities at their workplaces.”

A mix of the following methods will be used by regulators to help you:

  • Advice – giving advice on compliance and seeking voluntary compliance.
  • Information – resolving or assisting parties to resolve certain work health and safety disputes.
  • Compliance activities – directing compliance through statutory notices issued by inspectors.
  • Deterrents – regulator and court based enforcement action.
    This provides any employer in a harmonised jurisdiction with the opportunity to learn and grow into their new requirements in the codes of practice without the fear of being harshly come down upon during this transitional phase.

Source: OH&S Bulletin Portner Press May 2012

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