Under the Model Work Health and Safety Regulations (Model WHS Regulations), specific duties relating to plant safety are imposed upon a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) who manages or controls plant. Separate obligations are imposed on those who:

  • design
  • manufacture
  • construct
  • import
  • supply
  • commission, or
  • install plant.

The coverage of the Model WHS Regulations is wide and a number of duty holders will have obligations under the Model WHS Regulations. As an example, designers will be obliged to identify potential hazards in plant during the design process and supply information about this to manufacturers.

The principal duty imposed by the Model WHS Regulations will require a PCBU to control risk in relation to the use and operation of plant.

What are the registration requirements under the Model WHS Regulations?

The Model WHS Regulations introduce registration requirements which are considerably more extensive that those which currently exist in WA, Victoria and the ACT. Designers of certain types of high risk plant (such as boilers and pressure vessels, tower cranes and lifts) will be required to register designs with the regulator. High risk plant must conform to relevant technical standards and engineering principles.

To ensure that specified items of high risk plant will be inspected for safe operation prior to use, annual registration requirements are also imposed upon PCBUs. PCBUs must annually notify the regulator of plant maintenance in order to maintain registration.

In addition, PCBUs will be required to keep records for a period up to the life of certain plant, including records of inspections, maintenance and alterations.

Specific types of plant including earthmoving machinery, cranes and scaffolds, are subject to additional safety duties prescribed by the Model WHS Regulations.

What is the definition of confined space under the Model WHS Regulations?

The definition of a ‘confined space’ under the Model WHS Regulations makes reference to a number of characteristics, including restricted means of entry and exit. This definition differs to varying degrees from those found in existing regimes in the States and Territories. The current definition of ‘confined space’ in Victoria is a notable example, with the Model WHS Regulations widening the scope of the term substantially. The definition in NSW will be modified to include the restricted means of entry and exit.

What obligations are imposed on PCBUs under the Model WHS Regulations with respect to confined spaces?

The Model WHS Regulations provide for the control of physical risks inherent in confined space work (such as hazardous atmosphere and fire risks). A number of administrative control measures are also included in the Model WHS Regulations. For example, when work in a confined space is unavoidable, PCBUs must comply with a confined space entry permit system. Grant of permits will be based upon demonstrated implementation of risk assessment and hazard control. PCBUs will also be required to keep records pertaining to safety training, risk assessments and permits issued, for prescribed periods of time.

Further duties are imposed on designers, manufactures and suppliers of plant that contains, or may contain, a confined space. The purpose of this duty is to eliminate or reduce risk so far as reasonably practicable, ideally by removing the need for persons to enter any confined space within the plant.

A proposed Code of Practice for Confined Spaces, currently available in draft form, will assist PCBUs in complying with safety duties. The current draft of the Code of Practice includes guidance on carrying out risk assessments, atmospheric monitoring, signage and standby personnel requirements, and review of control measures.

Hazardous chemicals

The Model WHS Regulations pertaining to chemical classification, labels and Safety Data Sheets have been drafted to implement the ‘Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals’ (GHS) across all jurisdictions. These obligations are especially relevant to PCBUs who formulate, manufacture, import or supply hazardous chemicals. In particular, suppliers will need to be aware of regulations dealing with packing hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods. In all jurisdictions with the exception of NSW and the ACT, compliance with specific packing provisions is a novel requirement. Codes of Practice for Labelling and Preparation of Safety Data Sheets (currently available in draft form) will provide detailed guidance on these topics.

Whilst the Part of the Model WHS Regulations relating to Hazardous Chemicals is one of the areas to adopt a hierarchy of controls to control risks, the Model WHS Regulations also place considerable emphasis upon administrative control measures. These obligations include keeping hazardous chemical registers and manifests in the workplace, and preparing emergency plans. The Model WHS Regulations create an authorisation regime for prescribed uses of restricted and prohibited carcinogens, with record keeping by PCBUs an important aspect of the Model WHS Regulations. PCBUs are required to provide workers with information, training and health surveillance, and to keep records of these activities for prescribed periods of time. Notification requirements will apply in a number of circumstances, including when a manifest quantity of certain chemicals are at a workplace, when a tank is abandoned, and when lead risk work is to be carried out.

Are there any changes to the placard and manifest quantities under the Model WHS Regulations?

The Model WHS Regulations include a revised table of prescribed levels for dangerous goods in the workplace. Threshold levels are set out, with corresponding requirements to comply with various placard and manifest regulations. Providing notification to the regulator in cases where threshold levels are exceeded will be a novel requirement in some jurisdictions, replacing licence and registration regimes for dangerous goods currently in force in Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT.

What are the requirements with respect to asbestos under the Mode WHS Regulations?

The Model WHS Regulations set out detailed requirements with respect to work involving asbestos. The Model WHS Regulations address identification and management of asbestos in the workplace and create a new national licensing scheme for asbestos assessors and removalists.

PCBU obligations with respect to managing asbestos in the workplace will include:

  • maintaining an asbestos register to record asbestos or asbestos containing materials present in the workplace, and
  • having a written asbestos management plan in place.

PCBUs also have specific duties to provide training, health surveillance and information about asbestos exposure to workers, and to keep health surveillance and training records for prescribed periods of time.

The introduction of a national licensing scheme for asbestos assessors and removalists will implement standardised units of competency and required training. PCBUs involved in asbestos removal work will be obliged to prepare a written removal control plan, and to notify the regulator prior to commencement of asbestos removal. Further guidance on these regulations will be provided by the proposed Codes of Practice dealing with management and control of asbestos   in the workplace, and asbestos removal.