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Codes of Practice for Work Health & Safety

Codes of practice for work health and safety According to SafeWork Australia, “Codes of practice are practical guides to achieving the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and the WHS Regulations in a jurisdiction.”

To have legal effect in a jurisdiction a model Code of Practice must be approved as a code of practice in that jurisdiction. Nationally all states and territories have harmonized their OHS laws with the national model WHS laws, with the exception of Victoria and Western Australia. For codes of practice and guidance material that references the OHS laws relevant in Victoria and Western Australia, go to the websites of WorkSafe Victoria and WorkSafe WA respectively.


Listed below are four key Codes of Practice which those that handle, store and use hazardous chemicals can reference in order to help facilitate a safer workplace:

1. Managing risks of hazardous chemicals in the workplace: this is is a great summative document indicating how to identify chemical hazards, determine risk levels, employ appropriate controls from the hierarchy of controls to lessen or eliminate the risk and how to review your controls. It also details guidance on health monitoring where necessary and the content required for Emergency plans.

2. Labelling of workplace hazardous chemicals: this code applies not just to manufacturers, but also for duty holders who manage hazardous chemical storage and use, given approved labels are required for correct handling, storage and usage procedures, including situations where hazardous chemicals are decanted (transferred) from the original container. This has been an issue for contractors and council workers spraying in ovals and parks etc., where dilute spray mixes are made up prior to leaving the workplace and put in unlabeled 10 or 20 litre containers on the back of the work ute in readiness for later use. This problem can be averted through the use of a lockable storage box (preferably stainless steel and definitely waterproof to contain any spillage). Furthermore laminated labels for the product in use can be accessed from the supplier upon request, saving the issue of using unlabeled containers for spray mixes, as well as keeping empty drums bearing the same label as the product used.

3. Preparation of safety data sheets for hazardous chemicals: this code is a guidance for manufacturers and importers of hazardous chemicals in how to prepare a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for their particular hazardous product, and also an awesome reference document for a detailed description of the sixteen sections of a SDS, with an appendix detailing the meaning of key terms and abbreviations used in the document.

4. First aid in the workplace: the fourth code provides useful information on workplace first aid requirements, first aid kits and appropriate signage as well as training and procedures for administering first aid.

Recommended versus optional courses of action in Codes of Practice

Where the term ‘should’ is used in this Code, it indicates a recommended course of action, whilst the term ‘may’ is used to indicate an optional course of action.

Guidance material

Safe Work Australia publishes a range of guidance material to provide information on the model WHS laws and to help with compliance, including:

• Interpretive guidelines

• Guides

• Fact sheets

• Information sheets

Who do Codes of Practice apply to?

An approved COP applies to all those with a duty of care in the situations described in the code. Therefore the COP for Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the Workplaces is a great document for councils/ farmers/graziers/business owners etc. that have staff which use hazardous chemicals to benchmark their work practices against.

Generally, following an approved COP fulfills compliance with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act, relative to the situations described in the code but as one size never fits all, duty holders must consider all other WHS risks, not described in the COP, that pertain to their workplace. Remember also that approved codes of practice are admissible in court proceedings, (re the WHS Act in a relevant jurisdiction), so neglect a relevant code of practice at your peril.