Every business leader needs to be familiar with the different workplace safety acronyms. Depending on where your business is located, you might see WHS, OHS or OSH in your company’s occupational safety policy.
Most of these terms have practically the same meaning. However, some states and organisations prefer to use certain acronyms in their legal documents. It’s important that you know when and where each term can be used.
Here’s our simple guide to understanding the most common workplace safety acronyms.
WHS – Work Health and Safety
WHS stands for Work Health and Safety. As the term suggests, WHS refers to the management of all health and safety risks in the workplace. This includes the health and safety of everyone working for you, as well as customers, visitors and suppliers.
WHS gets its name from the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. This legislation sets out the requirements and standards for Australian businesses to build healthy and safe workplaces. It also establishes the legal obligations, or duties for employers and their employees.
Under the WH&S Act 2011, business owners are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety and wellbeing of everyone in their organisation. However, managers, supervisors and workers have to do their part as well.
Nearly all Australian states use WHS to refer to workplace safety. Victoria and Western Australia residents prefer to use different terms for it.
You can read more about the WH&S Act 2011 here.
OHS – Occupational Health and Safety
If you’re in Victoria, you’re more likely to see people use Occupational Health and Safety than WHS. OHS gets its name from the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. This is the main workplace health and safety law in the state.
The OHS Act 2004 offers the same basic principles of workplace health and safety as WH&S 2011. The legislation also aims to protect the well-being of every member in the workplace.
Most countries in the world also use OHS for workplace safety. In fact, the United Kingdom once used the term to denote the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS 18001). However, OHSAS 18001 was replaced by the first international standard for occupational health and safety management; ISO 45001.
OSH – Occupational Safety and Health
Meanwhile, Western Australians prefer to use Occupational Safety and Health over WHS or OHS. This is based on the state’s Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996.
The OSH Act 1984 shares some similarities with the WH&S Act 2011 and the OHS Act 2004. The legislation tasks employers with ensuring the safety of their employees in their workplaces. It also highlights the responsibility of businesses to prevent accidents and injuries on their watch.
Aside from the OSH Act, Western Australia also follows statutes established with the OSH regulations. The state has non-statutory codes of practice and guidance notes for occupational safety as well.
On 21 October 2020, the Legislative Council of WA passed the Work Health and Safety Bill 2019. This has taken it one step closer towards introducing a harmonised WHS legislation, and in fact moving from OSH to WHS.
SMS – Safety Management System
Safety Management System refers to the systematic approach to preventing accidents and injuries at a workplace. This includes the organisational structures, accountabilities, policies and procedures related to workplace safety.
Business leaders often adopt an SMS based on three imperatives: ethical, legal and financial.
Employers have a moral obligation to keep their work activities and workplaces safe for their employees. They need to follow legislative requirements in order to ensure the health and safety of their workers. By preventing accidents in their workplaces, businesses can reduce their financial exposure and damage to their reputation.
It’s not uncommon to see industry-specific safety management systems. For instance, the International Civil Aviation Organization require that all aviation authorities should have SMS regulatory structures in place. Here in Australia, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority implement their own safety management system.
The International Organization for Standardization also include requirements for safety management standards in ISO 45001.
CoR – Chain of Responsibility
Chain of Responsibility is a term used primarily in Heavy Vehicle National Law. It helps identify specific parties in the supply chain who are also responsible for road safety.
Initially, Australian transport laws placed the blame for unlawful behaviour solely on truck drivers. They often failed to recognise the role that other parties have in influencing these actions.
In response to this, CoR laws were created to establish the responsibilities of parties in the supply chain. These groups are prohibited from encouraging, demanding or allowing drivers from engaging in such behaviour.
The concept of Chain of Responsibility is also used in other forms. Responsible Service of Alcohol establishes that businesses that serve alcohol are responsible for the quantity that their patrons consume. This is to ensure that their patrons do not harm themselves or other people.
Meanwhile, aircraft pilots also follow CoR in their line of control. The captain has full responsibility over the actions of any other pilot who may have control of the aircraft.
EHS – Environment, Health and Safety
Environment, Health and Safety is a methodology that explores the practical aspects of protecting the environment, health and safety at workplaces. Similar to WHS and OHS, EHS also seeks to minimise the different safety risks posed on members of an organisation. The only difference is that it places an emphasis on the potential environmental effects of work activities.
EHS encourages organisations to comply with environmental regulations such as the proper management of waste and air emissions. It also promotes carbon footprint reduction among businesses.
IC – In Closing (ok this is not an official acronym)
Whether referred to as WHS, OHS or OSH, the important thing is that these workplace safety acronyms set guidelines to ensure safety at the workplace.