Health and safety legislation requires every Australian workplace to ensure the health and safety of its workers. Legally, a workplace is anywhere work is conducted.

As an employer, you also owe a general statutory health and safety duty to provide a workplace that is free from risks to health and safety to not only your workers, but to others, e.g. contractors.

Your general duty of care extends to:

  • workers;
  • contractors;
  • contractors' workers;
  • workers of your contractors' contractors;
  • visitors to your premises; and
  • even trespassers, in certain circumstances.

You must take all reasonable practicable steps to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all persons who are affected by your business or undertaking. In this case, reasonably practicable refers to what is reasonably able to be done when ensuring health and safety, including:

  1. the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring;
  2. the degree of harm that may result from the hazard or risk;
  3. what the person concerned knows or ought to reasonably know about:
  4. the hazard or risk; and
  5. ways of eliminating or minimising the risk;
  6. the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk; and
  7. the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk

Providing workplace safety means keeping your workers safe and healthy while they are at work.

The term ‘worker’ is quite broad. It is defined under the WHS Act as person who carries out work in any capacity for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), including:

  • an employee of the PCBU;
  • a contractor or subcontractor;
  • an employee of the contractor or subcontractor;
  • an employee of a labour hire company who has been assigned to work for the PCBU;
  • an outworker;
  • an apprentice or trainee;
  • a person gaining work experience; or
  • a volunteer.

Your duty of care to provide workplace safety extends to all aspects of the conduct of your business, including the physical environment where your workers work, e.g. temperature or lighting, and any workplace issues that may affect the psychological welfare of your workers, e.g. stress or workload.

It also includes any plant and equipment or systems of work used by your workers, the arrangements you adopt for use, handling, storage and transport of plant and equipment or substances, and the facilities you provide for the welfare of your workers, e.g. cooking facilities or air conditioners.

You are not liable for breaching your health and safety duties if you could not reasonably have foreseen the health and safety risk, or if it was due to causes over which you had no control.

To manage health and safety in your workplace, and to meet your duty of care, you will need to implement a health and safety management system.

Health and Safety Management Systgem

A health and safety management system is a system designed to ensure that health and safety issues are addressed in a systematic and integrated way.

As part of your health and safety management system, you must have health and safety policies and procedures in place, as well as having a process for managing and controlling workplace risks.

Health and safety policies are the documented principles, objectives, obligations and commitments that guide health and safety decision-making within a business.

Health and safety procedures are the documented processes that guide working practices in a business. They include specific procedures that set out step-by-step instructions for carrying out a job or task.

Health and safety policies and procedures help to provide workplace safety by:

  • demonstrating that your business is addressing its health and safety obligations;
  • showing that your business is committed to working within a set of health and safety principles;
  • ensuring that safe systems of work are recorded, communicated to workers and implemented in a consistent way throughout the business;
  • guiding the future action of workers rather than an ad hoc or informal approach;
  • helping your business to manage staff more effectively by defining acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in the workplace; and
  • saving time by allowing health and safety matters to be handled quickly through an existing procedure, rather than staff dealing with problems as they occur or responding differently each time the same issues arise.

Top stories for Workplace Safety


Your questions answered: How can we create a WHS Management System?

Workplace Safety

Q How do we create a WHS Management System? Are there any examples or templates we can use? A These will provide a useful starting point for you to develop your policy. Note that a WHS Management System should include: […]

By Portner Press on February 20th, 2020

Can dismissal for a serious safety breach be wrong?

Workplace Safety

  A recent decision of the Fair Work Commission (FWC) has highlighted that even where an employer validly dismisses an employee for a serious safety breach, the dismissal could still be found ‘harsh’ and therefore ‘unfair’. Usually terminating employment for […]

By Michael Selinger on January 30th, 2020

Your questions answered: Why isn’t failure to disclose a pre-existing injury grounds for dismissal?

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By Portner Press on January 30th, 2020

Employer liable for vulnerable worker’s trauma, court rules

Workplace Safety

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By Portner Press on January 14th, 2020

‘Hands on’ training didn’t save elderly woman from serious injuries

Workplace Safety

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By Michael Selinger on December 13th, 2019

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By Michael Selinger on December 9th, 2019

Safety failures lead to elderly man freezing to death

Workplace Safety

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By Portner Press on December 4th, 2019

How much supervision is enough supervision?

Workplace Safety

  How much supervision is enough supervision is a question that challenges organisations of any size when it comes to safety. But how should you make this assessment? The challenge with supervision is that it involves a number of considerations […]

By Portner Press on November 28th, 2019

Your questions answered: What happens if an injured worker failed to wear PPE?

Workplace Safety

Q Could you please advise what obligations and responsibilities employers, supervisors and employees have where an employee is injured due to a failure to wear appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? Employees have been provided with the relevant PPE, trained in […]

By Portner Press on November 26th, 2019

Your questions answered: Is there a minimum recommended width for wheelchair ramps?

Workplace Safety

Q I am currently sourcing a portable wheelchair ramp for disabled bowlers at our bowls club, but I am having trouble finding any applicable Australian standards. The only information I have been able to find seems to be for a […]

By Portner Press on November 12th, 2019