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Introduction to WHS Codes of Practice

In the 30-minute session, we introduce Australian WHS Codes of Practice (CoP). We cover: What they are and how to use them; their Limitations; we List (Federal) codes; provide Further commentary; and Where to get more information. This session is a useful prerequisite to all the other sessions on CoP.

Codes of Practice: Topics

  • What they are and how to use them;
  • Limitations;
  • List of CoP (Federal);
  • Further commentary; and
  • Where to get more information.

Codes of Practice: Transcript

Click Here for the Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Safety Artisan, where you will find professional, pragmatic, and impartial teaching and resources on all thing’s safety. I’m Simon and today is the 16th of August 2020. Welcome to the show.

Introduction

So, today we’re going to be talking about Codes of Practice. In fact, we’re going to be introducing Codes of Practice and the whole concept of what they are and what they do.

Topics for this Session

What we’re going to cover is what Codes of Practice are and how to use them – several slides on that; a brief word on their limitations; a list of federal codes of practice – and I’ll explain why I’m emphasizing it’s the list of federal ones; some further commentary and where to get more information. So, all useful stuff I hope.

CoP are Guidance

So, Codes of Practice come in the work, health and safety hierarchy below the act and regulations. So, at the top you’ve got the WHS Act, then you’ve got the WTS regulations, which the act calls up. And then you’ve got the Codes of Practice, which also the act calls up. We’ll see that in a moment. And what Codes of Practice do are they provide practical guidance on how to achieve the standards of work, health and safety required under the WHS act and regulations, and some effective ways to identify and manage risks. So, they’re guidance but as we’ll see in a moment, they’re much more than guidance. So, as I said, the Codes of Practice are called up by the act and they’re approved and signed off by the relevant minister. So, they are a legislative instrument.

Now, a quick footnote. These words, by the way, are in the introduction to every Code of Practice. There’s a little note here that says we’re required to consider all risks associated with work, not just for those risks that have associated codes of practice. So, we can’t hide behind that. We’ve got to think about everything. There are codes of practice for several things, but not everything. Not by a long way.

…Guidance We Should Follow

Now, there are three reasons why Codes of Practice are a bit more than just guidance. So, first of all, they are admissible in court proceedings. Secondly, they are evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk, risk assessment, risk control. And thirdly, courts may rely, or regulators may rely, on Codes of Practice to determine what is reasonably practicable in the circumstances to which the code applies. So, what’s the significance of that?

So first of all, the issue about being admissible. If you’re unfortunate enough to go to court and be accused of failing under WHS law, then you will be able to appeal to a Code of Practice in your defence and say, “I complied with the Code of Practice”. They are admissible in court proceedings. However, beyond that, all bets are off. It’s the court that decides what is anadmissible defence, and that means lawyers decide, not engineers. Now, given that you’re in court and the incident has already happened a lot of the engineering stuff that we do about predicting the probability of things is no longer relevant. The accident has happened. Somebody has got hurt. All these probability arguments are dust in your in the wake of the accident. So, Codes of Practice are a reliable defence.

Secondly, the bit about evidence of what is known is significant, because when we’re talking about what is reasonably practicable, the definition of reasonably practicable in Section 18 of the WHS act talks about what it is reasonable or what should have been known when people were anticipating the risk and managing it. Now, given that Codes of Practice were published back in 2012, there’s no excuse for not having read them. So, they’re pre –existing, they’re clearly relevant, the law has said that they’re admissible in court. We should have read them, and we should have acted upon them. And there’ll be no wriggling out of that. So, if we haven’t done something that CoP guided us to do, we’re going to look very vulnerable in court.  Or in the whatever court of judgment we’re up against, whether it be public opinion or trial by media or whatever it is.

And thirdly, some CoP can be used to help determine what is SOFARP. So in some circumstances, if you’re dealing with a risk that’s described a CoP, CoP is applicable. Then if you followed everything in CoP, then you might be able to claim that just doing that means that you’ve managed the risk SFARP. Why is that important? Because the only way we are legally allowed to expose people to risk is if we have eliminated or minimized that risk so far as is reasonably practicable, SFARP. That is the key test, the acid test, of “Have we met our risk management obligations? “And CoP are useful, maybe crucial, in two different ways for determining what is SFARP. So yes, they’re guidance but it’s guidance that we ignore at our peril.

Standards & Good Practice

So, moving on. Codes of Practice recognize, and I reemphasize this is in the introduction to every code of practice, they’re not the only way of doing things. There isn’t a CoP for everything under the sun. So, codes recognize that you can achieve compliance with WHS obligations by using another method as long as it provides an equivalent or higher standard of work, health and safety than the code. It’s important to recognize that Codes of Practice are basic. They apply to every business and undertaking in Australia potentially. So, if you’re doing something more sophisticated, then probably CoP on their own are not enough. They’re not good enough.

And in my day job as a consultant, that’s the kind of stuff we do. We do planes, trains and automobiles. We do ships and submarines. We do nuclear. We do infrastructure. We do all kinds of complex stuff for which there are standards and recognized good practice which go way beyond the requirements of basic Codes of Practice. And many I would say, probably most, technical and industry safety standards and practices are more demanding than Codes of Practice. So, if you’re following an industry or technical standard that says “Here’s a risk management process”, then it’s likely that that will be far more detailed than the requirements that are in Codes of Practice.

And just a little note to say that for those of us who love numbers and quantitative safety analysis, what this statement about equivalent or higher standards of health and safety is talking about  –We want requirements that are more demanding and more rigorous or more detailed than CoP. Not that the end –result in the predicted probability of something happening is better than what you would get with CoP because nobody knows what you would get with CoP. That calculation hasn’t been done. So, don’t go down the rabbit hole of thinking “I’ve got a quantitatively demonstrate that what we’re doing is better than CoP.” You haven’t. It’s all about demonstrating the input requirements are more demanding rather than the output because that’s never been done for CoP. So, you’ve got no benchmark to measure against in output terms.

The primacy of WHS & Regulations

A quick point to note that Codes of Practice, they are only guidance. They do refer to relevant WHS act and regulations, the hard obligations, and we should not be relying solely on codes in place of what it says in the WHS Act or the regulations. So, we need to remember that codes are not a substitute for the act or the regs. Rather they are a useful introduction. WHS ACT and regulations are actually surprisingly clear and easy to read. But even so, there are 600 regulations. There are hundreds of sections of the WHS act. It’s a big read and not all of it is going to be relevant to every business, by a long way. So, if you see a CoP that clearly applies to something that you’re doing, start with the cop. It will lead you into the relevant parts of WHS act and regulations. If you don’t know them, have a read around in there around the stuff that – you’ve been given the pointer in the CoP, follow it up.

But also, CoP do represent a minimum level of knowledge that you should have. Again, start with CoP, don’t stop with them. So, go on a bit. Look at the authoritative information in the act and the regs and then see if there’s anything else that you need to do or need to consider. The CoP will get you started.

And then finally, it’s a reference for determining SOFARP. You won’t see anything other than the definition of reasonably practicable in the Act. You won’t see any practical guidance in the Act or the regulations on how to achieve SOFARP. Whereas CoP does give you a narrative that you can follow and understand and maybe even paraphrase if you need to in some safety documentation. So, they are useful for that. There’s also guidance on reasonably practicable, but we’ll come to that at the end.

Detailed Requirements

It’s worth mentioning that there are some detailed requirements in codes. Now, when I did this, I think I was looking at the risk management Code of Practice, which will go through later in another session. But in this example, there are this many requirements. So, every CoP has the statement “The words ‘must’, ‘requires’, or ‘mandatory’ indicate a legal requirement exists that must be complied with.” So, if you see ‘must’, ‘requires’, or ‘mandatory’, you’ve got to do it. And in this example CoP that I was looking at, there are 35 ‘must’s, 39 ‘required’ or ‘requirement’ – that kind of wording – and three instances of ‘mandatory’. Now, bearing in mind the sentence that introduces those things contains two instances of ‘must’ and one of ‘requires’ and one of ‘mandatory’. So, straight away you can ignore those four instances. But clearly, there are lots of instances here of ‘must’ and ‘require’ and a couple of ‘mandatory’.

Then we’ve got the word ‘should’ is used in this code to indicate a recommended course of action, while ‘may’ is used to indicate an optional course of action. So, the way I would suggest interpreting that and this is just my personal opinion – I have never seen any good guidance on this. If it says ‘recommended’, then personally I would do it unless I can justify there’s a good reason for not doing it. And if it said ‘optional’, then I would consider it. But I might discard it if I felt it wasn’t helpful or I felt there was a better way to do it. So, that would be my personal interpretation of how to approach those words. So, ‘recommended’ – do it unless you can justify not doing it. ‘Optional’ – Consider it, but you don’t have to do it.

And in this particular one, we’ve got 43 instances of ‘should’ and 82 of ‘may’. So, there’s a lot of detailed information in each CoP in order to consider. So, read them carefully and comply with them where you have to work and that will repay you. So, a positive way to look at it, CoP are there to help you. They’re there to make life easy for you. Read them, follow them. The negative way to look at them is, ”I don’t need to do all this says in CoP because it’s only guidance”. You can have that attitude if you want. If you’re in the dock or in the witness box in court, that’s not going to be a good look. Let’s move on.

Limitations of CoP

So, I’ve talked CoP up quite a lot; as you can tell, I’m a fan because I like anything that helps us do the job, but they do have limitations. I’ve said before that there’s a limited number of them and they’re pretty basic. First of all, it’s worth noting that there are two really generic Codes of Practice. First of all, there’s the one on risk management. And then secondly, there’s the one on communication, consultation and cooperation. And I’ll be doing sessions on both of those. Now, those apply to pretty much everything we do in the safety world. So, it’s essential that you read them no matter what you’re doing and comply with them where you have to.

Then there are other codes of practice that apply to specific activities or hazards, and some of them are very, very specific, like getting rid of asbestos, or welding, or spray painting – or whatever it might be – shock blasting. Those have clearly got a very narrow focus. So, you will know if you’re doing that stuff. So, if you are doing welding and clearly you need to read the welding CoP. If welding isn’t part of your business or undertaking, you can forget it.

However, overall, there are less than 25 Codes of Practice. I can’t be more precise for reasons that we will come to in a moment. So, there’s a relatively small number of CoP and they don’t cover complex things. They’re not going to help you design a super –duper widget or some software or anything like that. It’s not going to help you do anything complicated. Also, Codes of Practice tend to focus on the workplace, which is understandable. They’re not much help when it comes to design trade –offs. They’re great for the sort of foundational stuff. Yes, we have to do all of this stuff regardless. When you get to questions of, “How much is enough?” Sometimes in safety, we say, “How much margin do I need?” “How many layers of protection do I need?” “Have I done enough?” CoP aren’t going to be a lot of use helping you with that kind of determination but you do need to have made sure you’ve done everything CoP first and then start thinking about those trade –offs, would be my advice. You’re less likely to go wrong that way. So, start with your firm basis of what you have to do to comply and then think “What else could I do?”

List of CoP (Federal) #1

Now for information, you’ve got three slides here where we’ve got a list of the Codes of Practice that apply at the federal or Commonwealth level of government in Australia. So, at the top highlighted I’ve already mentioned the ‘how’ to manage WHS risks and the consultation, cooperation, and coordination codes. Then we get into stuff like abrasive, blasting, confined spaces, construction and demolition and excavation, first aid. So, quite a range of stuff, covered.

List of CoP (Federal) #2

Hazardous manual tasks – so basically human beings carrying and moving stuff. Managing and controlling asbestos, and removing it. Then we’ve got a couple on hazardous chemicals on this page, electrical risks, managing noise, preventing hearing loss, and stevedoring. There you go. So, if you’re into stevedoring, then this CoP is for you. The highlighted ones we’re going to cover in later sessions.

List of CoP (Federal) #3

Then we’ve got managing risk of Plant in the workplace. There was going to be a Code of Practice for the design of Plant, but that never saw the light of day so we’ve only got guidance on that. We’ve got falls, environment, work environment, and facilities. We’ve got another one on safety data sheets for another one on hazardous chemicals, preventing falls in housing – I guess because that’s very common accident – safe design of structures, spray painting and powder coating, and welding processes. So, those are the list of – I think it’s 24 – Codes of Practice are applied by Comcare, the federal regulator.

Commentary #1

Now, I’m being explicit about which regulator and which set of CoP, because they vary around Australia. Basically, the background was the model Codes of Practice were developed by Safe Work Australia, which is a national body. But those model Codes of Practice do not apply. Safe Work Australia is not a regulator. Codes of Practice are implemented or enforced by the federal government and by most states and territories. And it says with variations for a reason. Not all states and territories impose all codes of practice. For example, I live in South Australia and if you go and look at the WorkSafe South Australia website or Safe Work – whatever it’s called – you will see that there’s a couple of CoP that for some reason we don’t enforce in South Australia. Why? I do not know. But you do need to think about these things depending on where you’re operating.

It’s also worth saying that WHS is not implemented in every state in Australia. Western Australia currently have plans to implement WHS, but as of 2020 but I don’t believe they’ve done so yet. Hopefully, it’s coming soon. And Victoria, for some unknown reason, have decided they’re just not going to play ball with everybody else. They’ve got no plans to implement WHS that I can find online. They’re still using their old OHS legislation. It’s not a universal picture in Australia, thanks to our rather silly version of government that we have here in Australia – forget I said that. So, if it’s a Commonwealth workplace and we apply the federal version of WHS and Codes of Practice. Otherwise, we use state or territory versions and you need to see the local regulator’s Web page to find out what is applied where. And the definition of a Commonwealth workplace is in the WHS Act, but also go and have a look at the Comcare website to see who Comcare police. Because there are some nationalised industries that count as a Commonwealth workplace and it can get a bit messy.

So, sometimes you may have to ask for advice from the regulator but go and see what they say. Don’t rely on what consultants say or what you’ve heard on the grapevine. Go and see what the regulator actually says and make sure it’s the right regulator for where you’re operating.

Commentary #2

What’s to come? I’m going to do a session on the Risk Management Code of Practice, and I’m also, associated with that, going to do a session on the guidance on what is reasonably practicable. Now that’s guidance, it’s not a Code of Practice. But again, it’s been published so we need to be aware of it and it’s also very simple and very helpful. I would strongly recommend looking at that guidance if you’re struggling with SFARP for what it means, it’s very good. I’ll be talking about that soon. Also, I’m going to do a session on tolerability of risk, because you remember when I said “CoP aren’t much good for helping you do trade–offs in design” and that kind of thing. They’re really only good for simple stuff and compliance. Well, what you need to understand to deal with the more sophisticated problems is the concept of tolerability of risk. That’ll help us do those things. So, I’m going to do a session on that.

I’m also going to do a session on consultation, cooperation, and coordination, because, as I said before, that’s universally applicable. If we’re doing anything at a workplace, or with stuff that’s going to a workplace, that we need to be aware of what’s in that code. And then I’m also going to do sessions on plant, structures and substances (or hazardous chemicals) because those are the absolute bread and butter of the WHS Act. If you look at the duties of designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers, and installers, et cetera, you will find requirements on plant, substances and structures all the way through those clauses in the WHS Act. Those three things are key so we’re going to be talking about that.

Now, I mentioned before that there was going to be a Code of Practice on plant design, but it never made it. It’s just guidance. So, we’ll have a look at that if we can as well – Copyright permitting. And then I want to look at electrical risks because I think the electrical risks code is very useful. Both for electrical risks, but it’s also a useful teaching vehicle for designers and manufacturers to understand their obligations, especially if you operate abroad and you want to know, or if you’re importing stuff “Well, how do I know that my kit can be safely used in Australia?” So, if you can’t do the things that the electrical risk CoP requires in the workplace if your piece of kit won’t support that, then it’s going to be difficult for your customers to comply. So, probably there’s a hint there that if you want to sell your stuff successfully, here’s what you need to be aware of. And then that applies not just to electrical, I think it’s a good vehicle for understanding how CoP can help us with our upstream obligations, even though CoP applies to a workplace. That session will really be about the imaginative use of Code of Practice in order to help designers and manufacturers, etc.

And then I want to also talk about noise Code of Practice, because noise brings in the concept of exposure standards. Now, generally, Codes of Practice don’t quote many standards. They’re certainly not mandatory, but noise is one of those areas where you have to have standards to say, “this is how we’re going to measure the noise”. This is the exposure standard. So, you’re not allowed to expose people to more than this. That brings in some very important concepts about health monitoring and exposure to certain things. Again, it’ll be useful if you’re managing noise but I think that session will be useful to anybody who wants to understand how exposure standards work and the requirements for monitoring exposure of workers to certain things. Not just noise, but chemicals as well. We will be covering a lot of that in the session(s) on HAZCHEM.

Copyright & Attribution

I just want to mention that everything in quotes/in italics is downloaded from the Federal Register of Legislation, and I’ve gone to the federal legislation because I’m allowed to reproduce it under the license, under which it’s published. So, the middle paragraph there – I’m required to point that out that I sourced it from the Federal Register of legislation, the website on that date. And for the latest information, you should always go to the website to double–check that the version that you’re looking at is still in force and is still relevant. And then for more information on the terms of the license, you can go and see my page at the www.SafetyArtisan.com because I go through everything that’s required and you can check for yourself in detail.

For More…

Also, on the website, there’s a lot more lessons and resources, some of them free, some of them you have to pay to access, but they’re all there at www.safetyartisan.com. Also, there’s the Safety Artisan page at www.patreon.com/SafetyArtisan where you will see the paid videos. And also, I’ve got a channel on YouTube where the free videos are all there. So, please go to the Safety Artisan channel on YouTube and subscribe and you will automatically get a notification when a new free video pops up.

End

And that brings me to the end of the presentation, so thanks very much for listening. I’m just going to stop sharing that now. It just remains for me to say thank you very much for tuning in and I look forward to sharing some more useful information on Codes of Practice with you in the next session in about a month’s time. Cheers now, everybody. Goodbye.

There’s more!

You can find the Model WHS Codes of Practice here. Back to the Topics Page.

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