Below is a brief explanation of some of the common key terms used throughout this website.

A person is considered to be a competent person if they have acquired through training, qualification or experience the knowledge and relevant technical skills to carry out the task.

See our competent person page for further details.

A person conducting a business or undertaking that design structures, such as engineers and architects, must so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • ensure there is no health or safety risk with the structure they design for those who construct, alter, convert, fit out, commission, maintain, refurbish, renovate, repair, demolish, dismantle, or dispose of the structure
  • ensure there is no health or safety risk with the structure they design for those who use it as or at a workplace for the purpose for which it was designed, or for anyone who is exposed to it
  • calculate, analyse, test or examine any aspect of the design of the structure to ensure that it is designed to be without risks
  • provide information to users in the safe use of the design as per subsection 22(4) of the WHS Act, including the purpose for which it was designed.

Due Diligence is being proactive in keeping up to date with knowledge of work health and safety matters and in ensuring the PCBU meets their work health and safety obligations.

Due diligence obligations are designed to ensure Officers take reasonable steps to ensure the use of appropriate resources, policies, procedures and health and safety practices in undertaking overall and daily business operations.

The term ‘duty holder’ refers to any person who owes a work health and safety duty under the WHS Act, including:

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

An enforceable undertaking is a legally binding agreement in which a person or organisation decides to rectify a contravention of the WHS Act to improve work health and safety outcomes and performance. As an alternative to prosecution, enforceable undertakings enable on-site remedies to safety breaches following an agreement between the regulator, an individual or the organisation.

A situation, task or object that has the potential to cause injury or illness.

In certain circumstances, a number of workers who have formed a work group may elect a health and safety representative (HSR) to represent them on work health and safety matters. The role of HSRs is important, as it provides a vehicle for consultation and working with a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) to resolve identified issues.

HSRs do have legal powers and particular functions which include:

  • representing work groups on health and safety matters
  • investigating complaints about health and safety
  • monitoring PCBU compliance with WHS laws
  • enquiring into anything that appears to pose a risk to health or safety
  • directing unsafe work to cease
  • issuing provisional improvement notices (PINs).

HSRs are entitled to attend approved HSR training sessions to help develop the skills needed to effectively carry out their role. It is recommended that HSRs attend their training as soon as possible after being elected. HSRs who have not completed the required training cannot issue PINs or direct workers to cease unsafe work.

The hierarchy of controls, in order of effectiveness, are:

Elimination - removed the hazard. This is the most effective hazard control. For example, work from the ground instead of at height.

Substitution - replace the hazard with a something that is not hazardous or is less hazardous. This is the second most effective control. To be an effective control, the alternative must not produce additional hazards.

Engineering controls - engineering controls isolate people from hazards. For example adding safeguarding onto a piece of machinery creates a physical barrier from a person's body to the machines moving parts.

Administrative controls - administrative controls change the way people work. For example adding warning signage, introducing procedure changes or providing employee training.

Personal protective equipment - provide and require employees to wear protective equipment such as gloves, noise or eye protective, high visibility clothing, hard hats etc.

An unplanned occurrence or event that causes or contributes to personal injury or damage to property.

Each state and territory health and safety regulator has WHS inspectors appointed to:

  • educate business, PCBUs and workers
  • ensure compliance
  • enforce laws as necessary.

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

  • improvement
  • prohibition
  • non-disturbance
  • infringement.

An officer is a person who makes, or helps make a decision which 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 are 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 WHS obligations. Furthermore, they have to be proactive in ensuring the PCBU complies with their duties under the WHS Act. They 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 WHS Act
  • of a public authority within the meaning of section 252 of the WHS Act.

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

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

Partners individually and collectively are a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU). Partners are not classified as officers. Even so, if you are a partner it may still be helpful to look at the duties of an officer as it will provide guidance on how to meet your primary duty of care obligations as a PCBU.

A person conducting a business or undertaking (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 / self-employed person
  • company or corporation
  • association
  • each partner within a 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 WHS Act 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.

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.

SafeWork SA is the work health and safety regulator in South Australia.

Under certain circumstances, union officials can enter a workplace to enquire into a suspected contravention of work health and safety laws, inspect worker records and consult with workers. Union officials must follow strict procedures, with penalties in place for any misuse of the Right of Entry.

The likelihood and consequence of an injury or illness occurring.

The process of evaluating the likelihood and consequences of injury or illness arising from exposure to an identified hazard or hazards.

A volunteer is a person who acts on a voluntary basis, regardless of whether they receive payment for out-of-pocket expenses. As a volunteer in a workplace, much the same as any worker, you must:

  • take reasonable care of your own health and safety
  • ensure that your actions do not adversely affect the health and safety of anyone else
  • comply with any reasonable instruction, and
  • co-operate with a person conducting a business or undertaking's (PCBU) WHS policies and procedures.

A volunteer is a worker for the purposes of the WHS Act when volunteering for a PCBU, such as an organisation that employs at least one worker.

A 'volunteer association' for the purposes of the WHS Act is a group of volunteers working together for one or more community purposes where nobody is employed. If a volunteer association is run purely by volunteers it:

  • is not captured by the WHS Act
  • does not have duties under the WHS Act, although common law obligations to ensure the safety of their volunteers remain.

However, if a volunteer association employs someone to carry out work then it:

  • meets the definition of a PCBU
  • falls within the scope of the WHS Act
  • must ensure the health and safety of workers, including volunteers, consult with them on WHS matters, and provide adequate information, training and supervision.

A volunteer who is an Officer of a PCBU must comply with the health and safety duties of that role.

Safe Work Australia has developed a comprehensive volunteer resource guide and other guidance material to help volunteer organisations understand and comply with any obligations under the WHS Act.

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
  • contractor or subcontractor, or an employee thereof
  • 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
  • apprentice or trainee
  • school-based work experience student
  • labour hire worker
  • 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.

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.

Page last updated 28 January 2020