Frequently Asked Questions: Officers

Who is an officer under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act?

An officer is a senior executive who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business or undertaking. There are three kinds of officers of a ‘person conducting a business of undertaking’ (PCBU) under the model WHS Act:

  1. an officer within the meaning of section 9 of the Corporations Act, other than a partner in a partnership
  2. an officer of the Crown, and
  3. an officer of a public authority.

Who is not an officer under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act?

Managers (including Human Resource managers), supervisors and work health safety advisers in an area of the business or undertaking are not officers as they do not generally make, or participate in making, the key decisions on how the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) operates. Instead, they:

  1. assist the decision making by providing information and advice, and
  2. implement the decisions made by officers.

State, territory or Commonwealth Ministers of the Crown and elected members of local authorities, in essence councillors, are not officers.

What are an officer’s duties under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act?

Officers of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) with a duty or obligation under the WHS Act must exercise ‘due diligence’ to ensure that the PCBU complies with that duty or obligation.

What is due diligence under the model Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act?

Due diligence is the corporate governance responsibility of officers with respect to work health and safety. The due diligence obligation recognises that the behaviour and decisions of officers of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU):

  1. determine whether the PCBU complies with its work health and safety duties, and
  2. strongly influence the health and safety culture of businesses and undertakings.

Why place a due diligence requirement on an officer?

Due diligence obligations are designed to make sure officers of a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) take reasonable steps to ensure the PCBU uses and applies appropriate resources, policies, procedures and health and safety practices in the conduct of the business or undertaking.

What must an officer do to exercise due diligence?

An officer must, at minimum, take reasonable steps to:

  1. acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety matters
  2. gain an understanding of the nature of the operations of the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and generally of the hazards and risks associated with those operations
  3. ensure that the PCBU has available for use, and uses, appropriate resources and processes to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety from work carried out as part of the business or undertaking
  4. ensure that the PCBU has appropriate resources for receiving and considering information regarding incidents, hazards and risks and responding in a timely way to that information
  5. ensure that the PCBU has in place and implements processes for complying with any duty or obligation of the PCBU under the Work Health and Safety Act, and
  6. verify the provision and use of the resources and processes referred to in paragraphs c to e above.

What is meant by ‘reasonable steps’ by an officer?

What is considered reasonable steps will depend on the particular circumstances, including the role and influence which an officer is able to exercise. An officer may rely on information, advice and the activities of others in their governance of health and safety management and decision making. They must be able to demonstrate that such reliance is reasonable.

When does the due diligence duty apply?

Due diligence is a positive duty. It applies whether or not here has been a health or safety incident and irrespective of whether the person conducting a business or undertaking has been found guilty or convicted of an offence.

Can an officer be held personally liable?

Yes. An officer can be prosecuted for a failure to comply with due diligence obligations. A volunteer officer however cannot be prosecuted.

Where can I find more information about officers and their due diligence duty?

For more information about the due diligence duty of an officer, see:

  1. Safe Work Australia’s Interpretive Guideline – model Work Health and Safety Act, the health and safety duty of an officer under Section 27, and
  2. your State, territory or Commonwealth work health and safety regulator’s website.

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