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


‘Work Shouldn’t Hurt’ survey paints grim picture of workplace health and safety in Australia

Workplace Safety

A recent survey conducted by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has painted a grim picture about workplace health and safety throughout Australia. The ACTU surveyed more than 25,000 union and non-union workers from a number of industries in […]

By Portner Press on August 22nd, 2019

Your questions answered: Is a walkie stacker the same as a forklift in WHS terms?

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Q We use a walkie stacker here, no ‘driven’ forklifts. I want to put up a physical barrier to stop pedestrians from entering the area where the walkie stacker is in operation as it is operated where the couriers enter […]

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Spotlight fined $150,000 for OHS breaches

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Workplace Safety

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By Portner Press on August 6th, 2019

Your questions answered: What should we include in our driver safety policy?

Workplace Safety

Q Our NSW-based organisation wants to draft a driver safety policy to help eliminate or minimise risks to our workers’ health and safety from driving-related accidents and injuries. The reason behind this is because our workers travel regularly to Queensland […]

By Portner Press on July 26th, 2019

Your questions answered: What should we include in our company’s health and safety policy?

Workplace Safety

Q What should we include in a health and safety policy for a sales and marketing environment? Our employees work in NSW in the office and visit customers’ locations selling our products and services. A The following matters should be […]

By Portner Press on July 25th, 2019

Falls from heights still an ongoing safety problem PCBUs must address

Workplace Safety

Falls from heights continues to be one of the most active areas for prosecutions across Australia. It is critical that organisations consider where their workers may face this risk, as well as ensuring controls are implemented to eliminate the potential […]

By Portner Press on July 18th, 2019

Your questions answered: What are our obligations regarding disposal of syringes?

Workplace Safety

Q I represent an organisation that works in the public sector. Are there standards, legislation and/or protocols to follow regarding the possibility of needing to provide syringe disposal in our public toilets for our potential clients and clients who may […]

By Portner Press on July 5th, 2019

Your questions answered: What are the legal obligations surrounding the use of dogs in the workplace?

Workplace Safety

Q   We are looking at using dogs to detect termites. We will be transporting them to jobs within our vehicles and at times they will be required to be at our workplace. What are the legal and safety requirements […]

By Portner Press on July 2nd, 2019

Your questions answered: What constitutes working from home?

Workplace Safety

Q We are a very flexible business. However, due to our focus on health and safety, we have looked into policies regarding our staff working from home. We now realise that we cannot be as casual about it as we […]

By Portner Press on June 18th, 2019