The supervision of apprentices and trainees is a significant responsibility for any employer so it is important that you understand your obligations under South Australian work health and safety laws.

Vocational education and training

Anyone thinking about doing a vocational education and training (VET) in schools traineeship or apprenticeship, should get advice and information from their school VET coordinator, as well as discuss their plans with a parent or guardian.

Workers or PCBUs experiencing problems should contact the appropriate traineeship or apprenticeship authorities or VET coordinator.

Supervising apprentices & trainees

If you employ a trainee or apprentice you have a primary duty of care for ensuring their safety while at work.

Apprentices and trainees look to the person responsible for their supervision for guidance and assistance in learning how to undertake their job safely and competently and should be encouraged to raise safety concerns.

You must provide them with all the necessary information, instruction, training, and supervision to protect them from risks to their health and safety.

Apprentices and trainees need varying levels of supervision as they acquire skills and gain confidence. This supervision falls into two categories: direct and general.

Levels of supervision

Direct supervision:

The provision of direct supervision requires:

  • staying within constant visual contact and/or earshot – this cannot be provided by electronic means.

Direct supervision is mandatory for first and second year/stage apprentices.

General supervision:

The provision of general supervision deemed appropriate by the employer, based upon:

  • accepted industry supervision standards
  • the level of competence and experience of the trainee/apprentice in a task or skill, and
  • the risk associated with the worksite and task.

General supervision is applicable to trainees, and third and fourth year/stage apprentices.

While trainees and apprentices may act as mentors, they must not be responsible for supervising other apprentices/trainees.

Steps to effective supervision

When supervising a trainee or apprentice you should:

  • explain the task, including safety risks
  • explain the purpose and why you do it that way
  • explain all the steps in completing the task, including safety control measures to minimise risk of injury
  • demonstrate the task
  • provide opportunity to practice the new skill and observe their progress
  • provide encouragement and feedback and maintain open communication
  • openly support a healthy workplace free from threatening behaviours, such as; bullying, violence, intimidation and verbal, physical, racial and sexual abuse.

Supervision ratios

The Training and Skills Commission has guidelines for supervisors that sets out specific details on supervisor requirements and supervisor/apprentice/trainee ratios.

Where a registered employer (eg Group Training Organisation) places an apprentice or trainee with a PCBU for their employment and on-the-job training, the registered employer must ensure that the PCBU complies with the requirements of the guideline, as far as is reasonably practicable.

Supervisor to apprentice ratios
Year of apprenticeship Persons responsible for supervision: Apprentice ratio (maximum)
1 or 2 1:1 Direct
3 or 4 1:5 General
Supervisor to trainee ratios
Year/stage of traineeship Persons responsible for supervision: Trainee ratio (maximum)
Any 1:5 General

To exceed the supervision ratio for apprentices and trainees, approval must be granted by a delegate of the Training and Skills Commission. A copy of the approval should be readily accessible at the workplace and available for inspection if and as required by SafeWork SA.

Breaches of supervision obligations

A breach of the WHS Act occurs when:

  • an action is taken that places a person at risk of injury, illness or death
  • steps are not taken to avoid placing workers at risk
  • there is a failure to comply with regulatory requirements.

Further information