Duties under WHS laws

Everyone has a role in workplace health and safety. Find out how to meet your duties under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

You have duties under WHS laws to keep people in the workplace safe if you’re: 

  • a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), such as an employer 
  • an officer, such as a business owner or CEO 
  • worker or other person in the workplace. 

A person can have more than one duty under the model WHS laws. For example, a self-employed person may be simultaneously a PCBU and a worker.  A person is not a PCBU where they are engaged solely as a worker or officer of the business or undertaking.  

Duties of a 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 will 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: 

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

Officer duties 

Officers have specific duties under WHS laws. 

An officer is 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 usually 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.  

Worker duties 

A worker is a person who carries out work for a small business or undertaking, including work as an employee or: 

  • contractor 
  • subcontractor 
  • self-employed person 
  • outworker 
  • apprentice or trainee 
  • work experience student 
  • employee of a labour hire company placed with a ‘host employer’ 
  • volunteers.   

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

While at work, workers 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 as 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 duties. 

Other people at the workplace 

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.  

Supporting information