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Middle Manager - Legislative obligations

How do WHS laws affect me in my role as a manager?

The WHS laws do not essentially change the overall role of managers in a workplace. As a manager you already play an essential role as a mentor, leader and communication channel for workers in your workplace.

Your role under the WHS laws continues to be one where you lead, guide and support workers to understand and adhere to all heath and safety policies and procedures as well as supporting assisting other duty holders to meet their WHS legislative obligations. Managers are also a key link between the WHS practitioners and workers.

Managers will need to ensure that workers are consulted and involved in any health or safety matter that will, or may, affect them. Workers should be given the opportunities to raise issues or provide ideas and feedback to you as their manager or through the WHS practitioners and senior leaders.

What do I have to do?

The WHS laws offer an opportunity to review how you, as a manager, work, lead and support workers in their daily work activities.

To assess if you are already doing things that will meet the requirements of the WHS laws ask yourself these questions, Do you, as a manager:

  • understand, promote and comply with health and safety policies and procedures
  • engage with your workers in an open honest and meaningful way to ensure they understand what safety standards are expected of them
  • encourage feedback and communication channels between you and your workers and you and senior leaders
  • ensure that WHS practitioners and senior leaders are made aware of issues or concerns on safety, especially where you or your workers identify hazards or flaws in any operational procedures
  • demonstrate your commitment to health and safety and model safe work practices to your workers
  • put into practice what you expect workers to follow, the standard you set is the one they will follow

If you are already doing these things, then you are already sending a positive message to your workers that health and safety matters to you and that it's important to adhere to policies and procedures

Who are the duty holders and what are their duties?


Managers are workers. Managers have the same legislative obligations under the WHS Act as any other worker. Under the WHS Act, a worker includes:

  • Employees
  • Independent contractors
  • Sub-contractors
  • Outworkers
  • Apprentices
  • Work experience students
  • Trainees
  • Volunteers who work in employment-like setting

The definition of workers is broad and includes any person who works, in any capacity, in or as part of the business or undertaking. The intention is to capture the range of work relationships and business structures within the duty framework.

Volunteer means a person who is acting on a voluntary basis (irrespective of whether they receive out-of-pocket expenses)

  • The WHS Act specifically protects volunteers in their capacity as workers
  • Ensures that volunteers are not discouraged from participating in community-based activities
  • A 'volunteer association' (as defined) is not treated as a business or undertaking

All Workers must:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety,
  • take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons, and
  • comply, so far as the worker is reasonably able with any reasonable instruction given by a person conducting a business or undertaking to allow the person conducting the business or undertaking to comply with the WHS Act, and
  • cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the person conducting the business or undertaking which relates to work health or safety and that has been notified to workers.


The principal duty holder is a 'person conducting a business or undertaking'.  PCBUs include the Commonwealth, Commonwealth Authorities, non-Commonwealth licensees and principal contractors.

There are additional upstream PCBUs who have duties as designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers of products used in the course of work.


Who is regarded as an 'officer' under the WHS Act largely depends on a number of key factors and the unique organisational profile within each business.

An officer is generally viewed in the Commonwealth WHS jurisdiction as a senior executive who makes, or participates in making, decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of a business or undertaking. Officers have a positive duty to be proactive and continuously ensure that the business or undertaking complies with relevant duties and obligations.


Managers should promote and foster open lines of communication and consultation with workers. This can be achieved by:

  • creating and nurturing joint partnerships with:
    • workplace work groups
    • HSRs and worker representatives
    • other involved Senior leaders
  • ensuring that effective consultation processes are built in to the business through its systems, policies and procedures
  • engage with workers by being visible and open to feedback and ideas.

What am I accountable for as a manager?

Actions, or inactions by managers of businesses, are very visible to the workers they lead. All workers in the business have accountability at one level or another.

Every worker at all levels of a business should:

  • Take ownership of their own health and safety for those matters within their control or ability to influence.
  • Work with colleagues to promote health and safety and ensure that it becomes a part of everyday business
  • Contribute to providing quality information that enables the establishment of baseline compliance levels and the measurement of changes in compliance over time. This rich source of information provides a reference point for targeting prevention and better practice initiatives
  • Be accountable as an individual to enhance a culture of health and safety within the business
  • Ensure that they meet duty of care obligations as required under the WHS laws. Non-compliance can result in a range of regulatory responses, and in some cases, criminal prosecution with substantially increased fines which may include jail sentences.

In addition to the above, managers should also:

  • Be accountable for involving and assisting workers in any change management processes.
  • Ensure that health and safety is integrated into team planning and does not get downgraded based on competing priorities, budgetary constraints, or a lack of resources.
  • Promote and encourage open discussions on health and safety at all levels of the business to ensure that workers can achieve outcomes based on open communication, consultation, negotiation and agreement.
  • Establish and promote fair and equitable issue resolution processes.

Right of worker to cease unsafe work

Managers should be aware that a worker may cease, or refuse to carry out, work if the worker has a reasonable concern that to carry out the work would expose the worker to a serious risk to the worker's health or safety, emanating from an immediate or imminent exposure to a hazard.

The WHS Act requires workers who cease work to notify the relevant PCBU that they have ceased unsafe work as soon as practicable after doing so. PCBUs are able to re-direct workers who have ceased unsafe work to carry out suitable alternative work at the same or another workplace. The suitable alternative work must be safe and appropriate for the worker to carry out until they can resume normal duties

In the first instance, a worker will more than likely let you, as their manager know of the unsafe work and it will require you to then consider how to provide 'suitable alternative work' for the worker to undertake until the issue has been resolved.

Managers should also:

  • Ensure that they inform the WHS Practitioner/Advisor of the situation as soon as possible after becoming aware of the unsafe work. This will assist in meeting the notification requirements placed on the PCBU under the WHS Act and to initiate a risk management processes.
  • Undertake an immediate risk assessment of the work area, in consultation with any work group HSR, to ensure that no other workers are affected or at risk and that the risk is contained.
  • Communicate and consult with the WHS team (HR) to assist in determining the most appropriate options for dealing with the issue i.e risk controls.

Who is responsible to notify the Regulator for incidents?

PCBUs have the overall duty to notify the regulator for certain serious injuries, illnesses and dangerous incidents that arise out of work performed out of an undertaking of the PCBU. A PCBU must ensure that policies and procedures are in place to enable an immediate notification of a notifiable incident to the regulator.

Managers are an important part of this process and are often the first ones to hear about or witness an incident. They will need to ensure that there is an effective local reporting procedure in place that supports or complies with business polices or procedures. It is often the managers who are tasked to implement reporting procedures and to ensure they are followed by workers.

Having clear, effective and workable reporting processes will enable the PCBU to meet their obligations to notify the regulator within the requirements of the WHS laws. Managers must ensure that all workers are aware of their need to report incidents through the internal policies and procedures and to understand that they must not disturb an incident site until an inspector attends the site or advises otherwise.

Page last updated: 26 Nov 2015