Policy context

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Policy context

National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002–2012

Overarching national occupational health and safety policy in Australia is contained in The National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002–2012. While primarily overseen by Safe Work Australia, the strategy is also supported in principle by governments in all jurisdictions, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the ACTU[1]. One of the strategy’s five priority areas is “to prevent occupational disease more effectively”, specifically through[1]:

  • data and research systems to provide more work-related disease data, including measures of exposure and the effectiveness of controls that can better identify existing and emerging risks to occupational health;
  • increased awareness of occupational disease issues and the need to control risks at source;
  • occupational disease risk assessment and control competencies (including knowing when to call for expert assistance) integrated into management, vocational, professional and inspectorate training;
  • better and more easily accessible practical guidance on the steps to prevent and control exposures; and
  • regulatory approaches considered, reviewed and modified where necessary to achieve effective controls.

As part of its research brief, Safe Work Australia (and its predecessors) has commissioned wide-ranging reviews of OH&S policy and practice[2].

In April 2010, Safe Work Australia announced that the new Australian Mesothelioma Registry would be managed by a consortium led by the Cancer Institute NSW and include some of Australia’s leading experts in asbestos related disease. The registry will replace the Australian Mesothelioma Register (which had operated since 1985) and collect notifications of all new mesothelioma cases from state and territory cancer registries and information on mesothelioma patients’ past exposures to asbestos.

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National codes of practice are in place to underpin the prohibition, control and management of scheduled carcinogenic substances in the workplace[3][4]. The extent to which Australian workers are protected against occupational carcinogens is determined by the rigour of enabling legislation and regulation, and its enforcement.

Regulation and statutory limits on workplace chemical and carcinogen exposure are controlled by a range of federal and state legislation, with agencies across all jurisdictions responsible for monitoring and compliance. Requirements include licensing of pesticides and agricultural chemicals, limits of exposure and particular handling procedures for specific carcinogens, listing of carcinogens under toxic substances or poisons acts and regulations and guidelines on safe handling of particular carcinogens published mainly by state-based workplace authorities.

The regulatory framework is complex and fragmented, partly because carcinogenic substances are variously regulated as workplace hazards, consumer products and environmental pollutants. In 2002, at least 15 different agencies across only two jurisdictions, the Commonwealth and NSW, had some regulatory responsibility for carcinogens.

There is no clear and comprehensive data on the implementation and effectiveness of regulations designed to reduce occupational exposures across jurisdictions, and no national agency with a remit to collect and publish this important information.

Safe Work Australia has announced its intention to standardise occupational health and safety legislation nationally[5]. The optimal model for standardisation is currently being discussed.

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National Preventative Health Taskforce

The Government’s National Preventive Health Taskforce’s 2009 report, Australia: The Healthiest Country by 2020 – National Preventative Health Strategy, recommends workplaces as vital settings for the introduction of health promotion programs[6]. The report notes that as well as improving the health of employees and their families, workplace programs may improve productivity and reduce occupational injury.

The taskforce has specifically identified a 'major opportunity' to build on the Council of Australian Governments’ Healthy Workers initiative (part of the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health[7]) with the “development of a national trial of integrated workplace health improvement programs based on the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) WorkLife Initiative, involving partnerships between state and territory occupational health services, volunteer enterprises and nominated research centres”[6].

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  1. 1.0 1.1 National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National OHS Strategy 2002–2012. Safe Work Australia; 2002 Aug 8 Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/230/NationalOHSStrategy_2002-2012.pdf.
  2. Gunningham N, Bluff E. Review of the key characteristics that determine the efficacy of OHS instruments. Canberra: Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, New Zealand Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee; 2008 Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/333/Review_KeyCharacteristicsThatDetermineEfficacy_OHSInstruments_2008_PDF.pdf.
  3. National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National Model Regulations for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, Part 2 [Scheduled Carcinogenic Substances]. Canberra: Safe Work Australia; 1995. Report No.: NOHSC:1011(1995). Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/239/NationalModelRegulationControlOfScheduledCarcinogenicSubstances_NOHSC1011-1995_PDF.pdf.
  4. National Occupational Health and Safety Commission. National Code of Practice for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, Part 2 [Scheduled Carcinogenic Substances [NOHSC:2014(1995)]. Safe Work Australia; 1995 Jan 1 Available from: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/SWA/about/Publications/Documents/240/CodeOfPracticeControlOfScheduledCarcinogenicSubstances_NOHSC2014-1995_PDF.pdf.
  5. Safe Work Australia. Model OHS Legislation Fact Sheet. Canberra: SWA; 2009 [cited 2009 Nov 10] Available from: http://www.alrc.gov.au/sites/default/files/pdfs/CFV%2019%20Attachment%20ACCI%201.pdf.
  6. 6.0 6.1 National Preventative Health Taskforce. Australia: the healthiest country by 2020. National preventative health strategy – the roadmap for action. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2009 Jun 30 Available from: http://www.preventativehealth.org.au/internet/preventativehealth/publishing.nsf/Content/nphs-roadmap/$File/nphs-roadmap.pdf.
  7. Council of Australian Governments. National partnership agreement on preventive health. Sydney: COAG; 2008 Available from: http://www.federalfinancialrelations.gov.au/content/npa/health_preventive/national_partnership.pdf.

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