Understanding effective enforcement tools

Research question

How can Australian WHS regulators make decisions and design interventions that effectively deter reoffending?

What is this research about?

The Centre has investigated WHS intervention activities to understand how effective and efficient they are in improving workplace health and safety in NSW.

Recent international research found there is a need for improved WHS performance indicators, and better designed evaluations of tools and interventions. Since most research has occurred outside of Australia, there is also a need for testing whether international findings hold true for the Australian workforce.

The Centre undertook research to identify what makes enforcement tools and other intervention activities effective, and how interventions should best be used to secure compliance with the law. The Centre also considered unintended consequences of enforcement and compliance tools, for example societal cost.

The project focused on the most effective use of penalty notices, prosecutions and enforceable undertakings but also took a broad view of general enforcement activities.

Timeline of project

The research report is published here.

What did the researchers look at?

To assist Australian WHS regulators answer the research question, our research took a multi-faceted approach to better understand:

  1. The frameworks guiding decision making and the use of enforcement tools.
  2. The differences in the use of enforcement tools among Australian regulators.
  3. The characteristics, mechanisms and evidence of the enforcement tools causing behaviour change.
  4. The effectiveness of the tools:
    1. as perceived by the inspectors that impose them
    2. as perceived by the businesses that receive them
    3. as reflected by the rate of reoffending.

This research was undertaken through a comprehensive literature review, a nation-wide survey and in-depth interviews with SafeWork NSW and businesses.


The report recommends that the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy is updated to include:

  • More guidance regarding assessment of duty holder motivations. Specifically, consideration of economical, legal, social and normative motivations.
  • More guidance regarding specific and general responsiveness factors to ensure interventions effectively target motivations and reduce reoffending behaviours. Examples include: business size, organisational structure and industry affiliation.

The Centre's research report and it's recommendations have been cited in Safe Work Australia's review of national model WHS laws, led by Marie Boland.

The Centre plans to undertake further research to identify additional factors to include in an assessment tool to assist prediction of reoffending and identifying impacts of encouragement and deterrence, as well as providing better guidance to regulators about which tool to use.

Want to know more?

To work with the Centre, or stay up to date with our research, head to our Engage with us page.