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Duty holders

Everyone has a role in the health and safety of workers and others in the workplace. This includes:  

  • ‘Persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) such as an employer
  • Officers, such as owners or operators of a small business, individuals who make significant decisions in a business, or those who can affect a business’s financial standing, and  
  • Workers and others in the workplace.

Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU)

A PCBU has a primary duty to ensure the health and safety of workers while they are at work in the business or undertaking and others who may be affected by the carrying out of work.

Whether a person conducts a business or undertaking is a fact to be determined in each case. Usually:

  • a business is conducted with a view to make profit and have some organisation, system and continuity. 
  • an undertaking will have some organisation, systems, and possible continuity, but are usually not profit-making or commercial.

Examples of a business or undertaking include:

  • A retailer
  • A wholesale business
  • A manufacturing business
  • An importer that is on-selling the imported goods
  • An owner-driver of their own transport or courier business
  • A fast food franchisor and the operator of the fast food outlet (the franchisee)
  • A self employed person operating their own business
  • A government department or government agency
  • A local council
  • A school

A volunteer association is a PCBU if it employs one or more paid workers to carry out work. See the Guide to Work Health and Safety for Volunteer Organisations for more information. 

For information about who may be a PCBU and their duties see:


An officer is generally someone who:

  • makes, or participates in making, significant decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business, or
  • has the capacity to significantly affect the business’ financial standing.

For small businesses, officers are typically the owners or operators of the business.

An officer of a PCBU has a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure a business or undertaking complies with their duties under the model WHS laws.

An officer can be prosecuted for failing to exercise due diligence.

For more information about the officers’ duty, including the meaning of due diligence, see the Officer duties page


A worker is a person who carries out work for a PCBU, including work as an employee, contractor, subcontractor, self-employed person, outworker, apprentice or trainee, work experience student, employee of a labour hire company placed with a ‘host employer’ and volunteers.  

The term ‘work’ is not defined in the model WHS laws and has its ordinary meaning. 

While at work, a worker must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by the worker’s acts or omissions. A worker must also:

  • comply, so far are they are reasonably able, with any reasonably instruction that is given by the PCBU to comply with the model WHS Act and
  • cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the PCBU relating to health or safety at the workplace that has been notified to workers.

A worker can be prosecuted for failing to comply with their duty.

Can I be a PCBU and a worker?

Yes. A person can be both a PCBU and a worker. 

A person may be a PCBU and at the same time be a worker carrying out work for another PCBU. 

The diagram below illustrates how this may work. 

As a person can have more than one duty under the model WHS laws, a self-employed person may be simultaneously a PCBU and a worker. In this case the self-employed person must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, his or her own health and safety at work. 

A person is not a PCBU where they are engaged solely as a worker (e.g employee) or officer (e.g executive manager) of the business or undertaking (section 5(4)).

Figure 1: Example relationship between PCBUs

Figure 1: Example relationship between PCBUs

In the diagram Company A engages Contractor B to carry out work for it.  Company A as a PCBU owes WHS duties to Contractor B who is a worker. If Contractor B engages subcontractor C, Contractor B will owe WHS duties as a PCBU to Subcontractor C.  Contractor B is a worker and a PCBU.

Contractor A will also owe WHS duties to Subcontractor C if it caused the subcontractors to be engaged or if it directs or influences the work carried out by Subcontractor C.  For further information about multiple PCBU duty holders, including the duty, to consult see Duties of a PCBU


Any person at a workplace, including customers and visitors must take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions or omissions.

The person must also comply with, so far as they are reasonably able, any reasonable instruction that is given by the PCBU to comply with the model WHS laws.

A person at a workplace can be prosecuted for failing to comply with their duties. 

Further advice 

SWA is not a regulator and cannot give specific advice you about your duties as a duty holder. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority

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