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What are codes of practice?

What are codes of practice?

Sep 28th 2022

What are codes of practice?

Codes of practice are sets of guidelines that help you to meet your legal obligations under your applicable Work Health and Safety Act. In Australia, there are codes of practice for a wide range of industries and activities, from office work to construction.

There are many benefits to following codes of practice, including:

  • Showing that you have taken all reasonably practicable steps to comply with your obligations under the WHS Act;
  • Helping you identify hazards and control risks in the workplace;
  • Providing practical guidance on how to implement effective risk controls; and
  • Helping you to develop safe work practices.

In this blog post, we'll be discussing how codes of practice fit in with the WHS framework within Australia.

What is the difference between Legislation, Regulation, and Code of Practice?

If you're a business owner in Australia, it's important to have a clear understanding of the difference between legislation, regulation, and code of practice in the context of workplace health and safety (WHS). This will ensure duty holders are compliant with all the relevant safety laws and regulations and can create a safe working environment for your employees.

What is Legislation?

Legislation is a law or set of laws passed by the parliament or legislature of a country. In Australia, federal legislation is made by the Commonwealth Parliament and state/territory legislation is made by each state/territory's parliament. Workplace health and safety legislation consists of acts (laws) and regulations.

What is Regulation?

Regulations are subordinate legislation made by the Governor-General, a Minister or another delegated person or body, such as WHS regulators. They provide more detailed guidance on how to comply with specific sections of an Act. For example, the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 set out specific requirements for managing risks, including what needs to be done to identify hazards and control risks and meet legal requirements.

What is a Code of Practice?

Codes of practice are developed by Safe Work Australia or approved by a Ministerial exemption. They provide practical guidance on complying with occupational safety legislation and can be used as evidence in court proceedings. For example, the Code of Practice for Managing Risks sets out a step-by-step approach for identifying and controlling risks in workplaces.

Codes of practice set out the minimum standards that should be met and provide guidance on how to achieve those standards. Safe Work Australia has a range of codes of practice and guidance material that can help you meet the standards required by law. The benefits of following a code of practice include: ensuring that your workers are properly trained and competent; reducing the risks of injury, illness and death; and improving productivity.

If you choose to deviate from the code of practice, you need to demonstrate that any alternative methods used provide equivalent or higher standard ways to manage work health and safety.

Are Codes of Practice legally enforceable?

 Codes of Practice provide practical guidance for businesses to achieve the standards of health, safety and welfare required under the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act and the Work Health and Safety Regulations (WHS Regulations). While they are not laws themselves, these codes can be used in courts as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk, or control, and to determine what is reasonably practicable in certain circumstances.

For instance, if a person or business fails to follow a relevant Code of Practice, they can't claim that they didn't know about a risk or hazard, or how to manage it.

Queensland differs from other states in this regard as all businesses in Queensland are required to comply with the approved Work Health and Safety (WHS) codes of practice. This is a change from other jurisdictions, where following a code of practice is not mandatory but is admissible in a court proceeding as evidence of whether a duty under the Act has been met.

While companies are not required to follow these recommendations, they may be liable if an accident occurs and it is found that they have failed to take appropriate precautions. As such, it is always advisable to consult a code of practice when planning changes to your workplace health and safety regime.

How the regulators use Codes of Practice

WorkSafe inspectors may refer to an approved code of practice when issuing an improvement or prohibition notice. When determining whether a person has contravened their duty under the Act, inspectors will consider whether the person has complied with any approved codes that apply to them. By following a relevant code of practice, a PCBU demonstrates that they are taking active steps to achieve compliance with specific regulations under the model Work Health and Safety Act.

Additionally, courts may have regard to codes when deciding whether WHS laws have been breached. In summary, Codes of practice are an important part of meeting obligations for workplace health and safety within Australia, however, they should not be used as a crutch for failing to provide a safe work environment but rather aid in ensuring one exists.

How Codes of Practice are Developed

Codes of practice are developed in consultation with stakeholders, including representatives from business, industry, workers and health and safety authorities. The consultation process allows all interested parties to have a say in how the code of practice should be developed.

Once the consultation period has closed, Safe Work Australia will consider all submissions and make a decision on whether to proceed with the development of the code of practice. If it is decided that a code of practice should be developed, a working group will be established to draft the document. The working group will consist of representatives from business, industry, workers and health and safety authorities.

Once the draft code of practice has been finalised, it will be released for public comment. All interested parties will be invited to make submissions on the draft code of practice. Once all submissions have been considered, Safe Work Australia will make a decision on whether to proceed with the release of the model codes of practice.

Developed by Safe Work Australia or approved by Ministerial exemption, these practical guides help you follow occupational safety legislation and can even be used in legal proceedings. Our Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are carefully created using the guidance found in these codes. For a deeper look into how our SWMS align with the best practices outlined in the codes, check out SafetyDoc's Guide on Safe Work Method Statements.

What are examples of Codes of Practice?

There are a number of codes of practice that have been developed to offer guidance and ensure safe work practices. Some of these include the Working at Heights code of practice, which provides guidance on how to safely work at height; the Construction Work code of practice, which covers health and safety issues specific to construction work; and the Manual Handling code of practice, which offers guidance on how to safely lift and move objects.

By following these codes of practice, employers and employees can help create a safe working environment and reduce the risk of injury. Each code of practice contains detailed information on the hazards associated with the work being undertaken and the controls that need to be in place to minimise the risks. By following a code of practice, employers can be confident they are meeting their obligations under the WHS legislation.

For a broad range of codes covering things like working at heights or manual handling, visit your state or territory's WHS regulator website. Need a very specific example that applies to many work sites? Our Crane Lift Plan template is heavily aligned with the established Code of Practice, ensuring your plan adheres to best practices and safety standards. See how it aligns with the code in SafetyDoc's detailed guide to crane lift plans in Australia.

Working at height safety

Types of Information in Codes of Practice

There are two types of information contained in codes of practice for Australian WHS: general information and specific information.

General information includes things like an overview of the WHS Act, your obligations as a business owner, and common hazards in the workplace. This type of information is designed to give you a broad understanding of your obligations under the WHS Act.

Specific information, on the other hand, provides more detailed advice on how to comply with specific provisions of the WHS Act. For example, the Code of Practice for Managing Noise and Preventing Hearing Loss at Work covers a range of topics, including how to assess the risks of exposure to noise at work and take steps to control those risks;

  • The roles and responsibilities of employers, employees, health and safety representatives, and others in managing the risks associated with exposure to noise at work; and
  • The methods available for monitoring noise exposure levels.

The code also sets out requirements for selecting and using personal protective equipment (PPE), such as earmuffs and earplugs. Additionally, it includes information on training employees in how to identify and control risks associated with exposure to noise at work.

Health and Safety Duties

Following an approved code of practice is one way of achieving compliance with the relevant health and safety duties under a jurisdiction's WHS Act and Regulations. In most cases, if you follow a code of practice, you will meet your obligations under the law.

However, it is important to note that codes of practice are not exhaustive and do not cover all possible hazards or risks that may arise in the workplace. The law requires you to take a holistic approach to managing health and safety in your business. This means considering all risks associated with work, not just those risks for which a legal requirement exists.

It is also important to remember that codes of practice are flexible documents that provide guidance on how to comply with specific health and safety duties in certain circumstances. What may be appropriate in one workplace may not be appropriate in another.

You should always consider whether the methods described in a code of practice are suitable for your business, taking into account your business's size, structure, resources, culture, and the nature of the work being carried out. If you decide to use methods other than those described in a code of practice, you will need to be able to justify your decision.

What codes apply to you?

As a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your workplace is compliant with all relevant codes of practice. But with so many different codes of practice out there, how can you be sure that you are up-to-date with the latest requirements?

Fortunately, accessing these codes of practice is easy. All you need to do is visit the WHS regulator website for your state and territory. Once you're on the website, you'll be able to search for your industry and the code of practice that applies to your business. Simply select the code that applies to your business type from the list of options.

By accessing the code of practice, you can ensure that you are meeting the minimum standards for health and safety in your workplace. Additionally, accessing the code of practice can help you identify any areas in which your workplace health and safety practices may be inadequate. By taking steps to improve your workplace health and safety practices, you can create a safer environment for your employees and help reduce the risk of accidents and injuries in your workplace.

How do I use a Code of Practice?

Once you have accessed the code of practice that applies to your business, take some time to read through it carefully. Familiarise yourself with the requirements outlined in the code so that you can ensure that your workplace meets those requirements. Additionally, use the code of practice as a guide when developing new workplace health and safety practices or updating existing practices.

When it comes to developing health and safety procedures, a code of practice can be an extremely helpful tool. Documented safety management systems are designed to help organisations identify and control health and safety risks, and a code of practice can provide guidance on how to develop and implement practical tools and practice approved methods of managing health and safety.

A code of practice can also be used to develop specific work health and safety (WHS) procedures, such as safe work method statements (SWMS) and standard operating procedures (SOPs). By following the guidelines set out in a code of practice, you can be sure that your WHS procedures are effective and compliant with relevant legislation.

Need more context on how codes of practice apply in confined spaces? SafetyDocs offers a blog post specifically on that:


Codes of practice are an important part of workplace health and safety (WHS) for a number of reasons. First, they provide clear guidance on how to safely carry out activities in the workplace. This can be particularly important in ensuring that new employees are aware of the correct procedures to follow.

Second, codes of practice help to create a culture of safety in the workplace. By setting out clear expectations for safe behaviour, they encourage employees to take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of those around them.

Finally, codes of practice can provide a means of addressing hazards and risks in the workplace. Outlining the steps that need to be taken to control these risks can help provide better safety outcomes for everyone.

Implement your codes of practice with SafetyDocs

At SafetyDocs, we understand that health and safety are of the utmost importance in any workplace. That's why we offer a range of documents that can be used to help develop systems that meet approved codes of practice. Whether you're looking for risk assessments, safe work procedures or something else, we can provide you with the templates you need to keep a safe and healthy workplace. Need help documenting a process? Try our Document Control Policy template:

And if you're not sure where to start, our team of experts are always on hand to offer advice and support. So why not get in touch today to find out how SafetyDocs can help you create a safer workplace for everyone.

Our team of experts is dedicated to providing accurate and informative content.

Author - Craig Cruickshank is the HSEQ Advisor/Project Manager at SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture.

Craig comes from a construction and environmental background, with experience in both the private and public sectors and is passionate about making health and safety information easy to find and understand for everyone.

Learn more about Craig's work on LinkedIn

Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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