Working safely in Australia

This page and publication contains simple information about work health and safety and workers’ compensation in Australia. It is for workers who are new to Australia or to working in Australia, and who may have little experience of Australian workplaces, and especially those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. It is not intended as a definitive guide to all work health and safety issues in Australia.

The information, including a checklist for workers to use when starting a new job, is available to download in English and eleven other community languages.

Safety is an important part of working in Australia.

In Australia, the law says that your employer (your boss) must do all they can to make sure your job does not hurt you or make you sick. This law is called work health and safety (WHS) or occupational health and safety (OHS).

The law also says your boss must have insurance for you in case you are hurt at work. This is called workers’ compensation. If you are hurt or get sick at work, the insurance may pay for your medical treatment and for your wages until you can work again.

This covers all workers in Australia, even if you are on a temporary visa.

What your boss must do

Your boss must: look after your health and safety at work.

Your boss must:

  • show you how to do your job safely or make sure someone shows you how to do your job safely
  • make sure there is someone to watch out for you
  • not ask you to do anything that needs a special licence, like drive a car, a crane or a forklift if you don’t have the right licence
  • have the right tools and equipment for you to do your job safely.
  • give you safety equipment if you need it to do your job.

Safety equipment

Work safety equipment is usually called personal protective equipment (PPE). There are special types of equipment for each job. This could be a hard hat, goggles or safety eye glasses, gloves, boots, aprons or ear muffs. 

It needs to be in good condition and it should fit you comfortably.  You need to know how to use it and you need to wear it properly.

If you think you need something extra, talk to your boss, a more experienced worker or the Health and Safety Representative (HSR) if there is one at your workplace.

What you must do to keep yourself safe at work

In Australia, the law also says there are things you must do to look after your own health and safety at work.
You must:

  • be fit enough to do your job
  • be well enough to do your job
  • do what your boss tells you as long as it is reasonable and unless you think it is not safe or it could hurt you
  • not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs or use alcohol or illegal drugs while at work
  • not do anything that would hurt yourself or anyone else at work

If you do not understand how to do anything you are asked to do at work, you should ask your boss or a more experienced worker for help.

These are some of the things that could hurt you at work:

  • using equipment when nobody has taught you how to use it properly
  • not wearing the right safety equipment or not wearing it properly
  • hurrying and taking short cuts
  • doing things that take your mind off the job while you are working (like using your own mobile phone while you are working).

In Australia, the law says you have the right to ask questions about the work you have been asked to do and to say no if you are asked to do work that could hurt you. If you are asked to do something that you think may be unsafe, stop and talk to the boss or your supervisor.

Sometimes the boss at work is not the person who pays you, for example, where you work through a labour hire agency. If you work through a labour hire agency, they will pay you but someone else is in charge at work. If you don’t want to talk to the boss at work, you can talk to the labour hire agency about your work health and safety.

There should be a person at work who can help you with any questions about work health and safety – find out who this is and how to contact them.

If you are not sure about something, ask someone for help.

Your right to fair pay and conditions

In Australia, there are minimum wages and working conditions. The Fair Work Ombudsman helps employers and workers to understand these rights and responsibilities at work, they can also help you find out what you should be paid.  The Fair Work Ombudsman can investigate a case if they think someone has broken workplace laws.

To contact the Fair Work Ombudsman or to learn more about your rights at work, visit the website www.fairwork.gov.au or call 13 13 94.

Bullying

Bullying is repeatedly saying or doing something to a person that frightens them or humiliates them. It could be things like laughing at them, calling them unkind names, pushing into them or breaking their things.

Nobody should be bullied at work.  If you are bullied, talk to your boss or to another worker and tell them you want it to stop.

If it doesn’t stop you can talk to someone in the government in the state or territory where you are working. There is a list at the end of this fact sheet. You can also talk to the Fair Work Commission, call 1300 799 675 or go to www.fwc.gov.au.

What to do if you get hurt or injured at work

Get first aid or see a doctor or nurse straight away. You have the right to choose the doctor you see. This can be your own doctor, a local doctor or a doctor or nurse at work. You can ask the doctor for a medical certificate and you can show this certificate to your boss.

Tell your boss that you have been hurt.  You will probably need to fill in a form called an incident report. If you can, try and do this before you go home. If you need help filling in the form, ask someone to help you. The form will ask you to explain what happened and how you got hurt. It helps stop other people getting hurt or injured like you did. It is very important to have this record – it may affect your workers’ compensation.

If you have medical bills or can’t work because of your injury, you may get workers’ compensation to pay for medical treatment and support until you get back to work. Remember to ask your boss about this as soon as possible, and fill in any forms you need to apply for workers’ compensation.

If you are hurt, do not be afraid that you will get into trouble.  Even if you have made a mistake, you should report the injury and ask for help.

External resources and links

For workers

For employers

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Questions should be emailed to info@swa.gov.au.

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