Work Health and Safety: What is the difference between an Act, Regulation and Code of Practice?

What is the difference between an act and a regulation? And where do you find more information about them?

At the heart of Australian work health and safety is the new model WHS legislation introduced in most jurisdictions in 2012. These standardised and “harmonised” safety laws apply across most of Australia, making it easier for organisations operating in multiple states to conduct business.

The model WHS legislation introduced a range of new Acts, Regulations and Codes of Practice that govern workplace health and safety and welfare in each state and territory.

It is essential for occupational health and safety practitioners, as well as many business owners, managers, tradesmen, and employees working in hazardous roles, to know and comply with these legal requirements.

Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act

workplace safety concept featuring common whs tools that protect workers

An Occupational Health and Safety Act is a formal description of health and safety law passed in a state or territory.

It’s intended to spell out duties for each group that has a role in health and safety in the workplace. When an Act is passed by Parliament in a jurisdiction, it becomes legally binding.

You can get more details about the new model WHS Act here

Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations

workplace health and safety hard hat placed on wooden table

OHS/WHS regulations are a more detailed set of requirements created to support the duties established in the OHS/WHS Act. Regulations also need to be enacted or passed by Parliament in each jurisdiction to be legally binding.

Workplace injuries can cost thousands of dollars each year, so it’s important that companies follow Work Health and Safety regulations properly from day one.

They should do this not only for legal reasons but also for business continuity purposes.

Work health and safety rules are an essential part of every company regardless of its size or operations because failure to comply with state WHS laws can result in hefty fines.

You can learn more about the new model regulations here

Work Health and Safety (WHS) Codes of Practice

senior whs officer drafting practical guides and detailed requirements

OHS/WHS Codes of practice are a practical guide on how to achieve the accepted standards of workplace health, safety and welfare required in the OHS/WHS Act and Regulations. To be legally binding, a code of practice has to be approved for that jurisdiction.

You can contact a work health and safety regulator in your jurisdiction to find out which codes of practice have been approved.

You can find more information about the new model Codes of Practice here

Find your local Work Health and Safety Regulator here

New Harmonised WHS Laws

 construction worker happy with implementing whs code of practice

Australia is in the process of implementing new work health and safety laws — which are designed to harmonise WHS laws across our country.

They officially commenced on the 1st January 2012, but several states still haven’t accepted them or started complying with them yet.

These states are now (as of May 2013) using the harmonised model WHS legislation instead of the previous unique state OH&S laws:

  • Australian Capital Territory
  • The Commonwealth of Australia
  • New South Wales
  • Northern Territory
  • Queensland
  • South Australia

Please check the current status of the model WHS implementation in your state or territory.

Even if your state/territory has implemented the model WHS act already, there may still be some minor variations in workplace health and safety practice in your jurisdiction.

To be sure you’re following correct procedures and complying with your legal requirements, learn more about your state health and safety Act, Regulations and Codes of Practice.

Need to Learn More About Work Health and Safety?

work health and safety class that talks about whs laws

Safety qualifications are not just for safety professionals!

The Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety is incredibly popular and useful for people from all walks of life who need extra safety skills and knowledge to use in the workplace.

This qualification can even be the start of a whole new career!

Work health and safety is one of the most important and rewarding careers in Australia. Every day, safety officers and coordinators ensure that all their employees get home safely after each workday.

Safety professionals typically hold qualifications Certificate IV in Work Health and Safety, which is one of the most popular accreditations for people in a wide variety of safety roles, including safety officers, WorkCover assessors, and workplace safety reps.

Many safety professionals also pursue further study in Diploma of Work Health and Safety in order to grow their career and expand their professional opportunities.

Make sure your training provider uses quality training resources for BSB41415 Certificate IV in Work Health Safety or BSB51315 Diploma of Work Health and Safety as this can make a real difference to your skill and knowledge level on completion of your training.

Why do Organisations Need Health and Safety Officers?

whs officers going through safety code of practice

Health and safety is serious business these days.

In Australia, there can be tough penalties for organisations that do not fulfill their duty of protecting workers and advocating safety in terms of mental health and physical wellbeing for employees in the workplace — including possible reduction or closure on operations due to neglectful conduct towards occupational health/hazard assessment standards set out by law (and common sense).

It’s also often considered good business — investments in health and safety have been shown to have a positive ROI due to savings on compensation, legal fees, and lost productivity experienced after workplace incidents.

As a result, there are roles for safety professionals in many workplaces in many industries across Australia. In smaller organisations, this might be combined with other responsibilities.

Larger workplaces can often employ dedicated safety officers to manage workplace health and safety, opening up opportunities for work.


  1. Work Health and Safety Act – a formal description of health and safety law passed in a state or territory.
  2. Work Health and Safety Regulations – a more detailed set of requirements created to support the duties established in the OHS/WHS Act.
  3. Work Health and Safety Code of Practice – a practical guide on how to achieve the accepted standards of workplace health and safety required in the OHS/WHS Act and Regulations.

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