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Common work health and safety terms

Duty holder

A duty holder is any person who has a work health and safety duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012, including:

  • a person conducting a business or undertaking
  • designers
  • manufacturers
  • importers
  • suppliers
  • the installer of product or plant used at work
  • officers
  • workers.

It’s possible for more than one person to simultaneously have the same duty, in which case the duty becomes shared. However, duties cannot be transferred.

Officer

An officer is a person who makes (or helps make) a decision that affects either the whole or a major part of a business or undertaking. If a person has the capacity to significantly affect the financial standing of the organisation, they’re recognised as an officer.

Officers for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU):

  • have a specific duty to exercise due diligence to ensure they meet their own work health and safety obligations
  • have to be proactive in ensuring the PCBU complies with their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012
  • are responsible for actively fulfilling the duty and should not assume that someone else has taken care of health and safety outcomes.

You are considered to be an officer if you are an officer:

  • within the meaning of section 9 of the Corporations Act 2001
  • of the Crown within the meaning of section 247 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012
  • of a public authority within the meaning of section 252 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012.

Partners of a partnership are known as PCBUs and not officers.

There is no need to appoint or train a ‘responsible officer’.

Person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU)

A PCBU covers a broad range of modern work relationships and business structures. These include someone operating a business or undertaking for-profit or not-for-profit, whether alone or with others. The definition of a PCBU focuses on work arrangements and the relationships involved in carrying out that work.

A PCBU can be an:

  • employer
  • sole trader
  • corporation
  • association
  • partnership
  • local government (council)
  • state, territory or commonwealth government
  • certain volunteer organisations
  • the trustee of a trust.

A self-employed person is also a PCBU and must ensure their own health and safety while at work, so far as is reasonably practicable.

A public authority is defined in our laws as an agency or instrumentality of the Crown or an administrative unit or department within the public service. The laws also define a PCBU sufficiently widely to cover public sector agencies, which therefore binds the Crown as a legal entity. This means that all public authorities and Officers within them have duties and are accountable, and liable to face prosecution, for any breaches of the laws, to the same extent as private sector organisations.

The primary duty of a PCBU under section 19 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 is to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the health and safety of workers and others, such as clients, visitors and customers, is to not be put at risk by the work carried out by the business or undertaking. This duty requires PCBUs to provide and maintain:

  • a safe work environment
  • safe plant and structures
  • safe systems of work
  • safe use, handling and storage of plant, structures and substances
  • adequate facilities to support the welfare of workers
  • information, training, instruction or supervision
  • monitoring of workers’ health and workplace conditions to prevent illness or injury.

There are additional duties for PCBUs who:

  • manage or control a workplace
  • control fixtures, fittings or plant at a workplace
  • design, manufacture, import or supply plant, substances or structures
  • install, construct or commission plant or structures for a workplace.

Worker accommodation owned or controlled by a PCBU and necessary for a worker’s engagement because other accommodation is not reasonably available must also be maintained so that workers are not exposed to health and safety risks.

A PCBU does not include:

  • a person engaged solely as a worker or an officer
  • an elected member of a local authority
  • a volunteer association, where no workers are employed
  • a strata title body corporate responsible for common areas used only for residential purposes, so long as the body corporate does not directly employ workers.

Reasonably practicable

The term reasonably practicable means whatever is, or was at a particular time, reasonably able to be done in relation to ensuring health or safety. This takes into account and weighs up all relevant matters including:

  • the likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring
  • the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk
  • what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk, and ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk
  • whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.

Important aspects of the term reasonably practicable include:

  • what could be done at the time
  • the need to weigh up all relevant matters
  • cost, which may only be considered after all other aspects have been assessed
  • availability and suitability of ways of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • the level of control a person conducting a business or undertaking has over the matter.

Regulator

Every state and territory has a work health and safety regulator whose work health and safety inspectors are appointed to:

  • educate
  • ensure compliance
  • enforce laws as necessary.

Inspectors also have the power to issue the following penalty notices:

  • improvement
  • prohibition
  • non-disturbance
  • infringement.

WorkSafe Tasmania is the regulator in Tasmania.

Worker

A worker is anyone who carries out work for a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) regardless of whether they are full-time, part-time or casual. This can be:

  • an employee
  • a contractor or subcontractor, or an employee thereof
  • an outworker, such as a contractor or worker who is engaged to work from their home or at a place that would not previously have been thought of as a business premise
  • an apprentice or trainee
  • a school-based work experience student
  • a labour hire worker
  • a volunteer.

A worker’s responsibility is to take reasonable care of their own safety, whilst ensuring they don’t unfavourably affect the health and safety of anyone else, be it a fellow worker, client, customer or visitor. Workers must also comply with any reasonable instruction given by the PCBU and co‑operate with their work health and safety policies and procedures.

Clients, visitors and customers have their own work health and safety responsibilities, similar to those of a worker. They should be aware of their own safety and the safety of anyone else in the workplace and follow any instructions given by the PCBU.

Workplace

A workplace includes any place where a worker goes or is likely to be for their work, such as a shop, office or factory. It includes construction sites, as well as vehicles, vessels, aircraft or other mobile structures on land or water.

It does not include somewhere that USED to be a workplace, such as a vacant building, if work is no longer being carried out there.

Updated: 11th December 2019