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Senior managers and executives

For: Employers and managers Information seekers

Senior managers and executives are responsible for ensuring their organisation complies with its duties and obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and the Safety Rehabilitation Compensation Act 1988 (SRC Act).


The role of senior managers explained

The role and influence you have in your organisation determine if you are an 'officer' under the WHS Act.

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.

In this guidance material, such a person is referred to as a senior manager or executive.

Duties of a senior manager or executive

Duties as a worker and manager

All workers, including senior managers and executives, have duties under section 28 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act). These duties include taking reasonable care for your own psychological and physical health and safety and that your actions or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

Your duty as a worker to take 'reasonable care' is proportionate to the control you can exercise over your work activities and your work environment. You should consider what is expected of you in carrying out your work and discharging your responsibilities according to the skills and expertise expected of a person holding themselves out to be able to undertake your role in the organisation.

At a basic level, your worker duties would include:

  • participating in safety training
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) you are given
  • reporting hazards or work  practices you feel may be unsafe
  • following operational procedures such as safe work method statements
  • following relevant safety manuals and emergency procedures
  • complying with relevant codes of conduct
  • understanding and following internal incident reporting processes.

At a managerial level, your duties would include:

  • ensuring that psychological and physical health and safety is integrated into team planning and does not get downgraded based on competing priorities, budgetary constraints, or a lack of resources
  • promoting and encouraging open discussions on psychological and physical health and safety at all levels of the business to ensure that workers can achieve outcomes based on open communication, consultation, negotiation, and agreement
    engaging with workers to ensure they understand what safety standards are expected of them
  • providing instruction and training to workers about operational procedures and working safely
    preventing workers from working in an unsafe manner, such as without appropriate PPE
  • acting on reports of hazards or unsafe work practices
  • encouraging feedback and communication channels between workers, middle managers and senior managers
  • ensuring that WHS practitioners and senior managers are made aware of issues or concerns on safety, especially any hazards or flaws in operational procedures
  • modelling safe work practices to workers and other managers
  • involving and assisting workers in any change management process
  • helping other duty holders to meet their obligations under the WHS Act.

Duties as a senior manager or executive

As a senior manager or executive your duty as an officer under the WHS Act relates to the capacity you have to make, or participate in making, significant decisions that affect the whole, or a substantial part, of the business and its financial standing.

You have a duty to exercise due diligence to ensure that the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU), your organisation, complies with the duties it has under the WHS Act.

For a full list of duties, see the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

Exercising due diligence

As a senior manager or executive who is an officer under the WHS Act, you must exercise due diligence to ensure that your organisation, being a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), complies with the duties it has under the WHS Act.

Exercising due diligence includes that you must take reasonable steps to:

  • develop and maintain your knowledge of psychological and physical health and safety matters
  • understand the nature of your organisation’s operations and the associated hazards and risks
  • ensure your organisation has, implements, and uses appropriate resources and processes:
    • to eliminate or minimise risks to health and safety from work carried out
    • for receiving, considering and responding to information regarding incidents, hazards and risks
    • for complying with duties and obligations it has under the WHS Act.
  • verify the provision and use of these resources and processes.

For more information, see:

For guidance also refer to the Model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.

Liabilities

A worker or officer who does not comply with a duty imposed on them under the WHS Act commits an offence and may be subject to a prosecution resulting in a fine and, for an offence that exposes an individual to the risk of serious injury of death, the possibility of imprisonment.

Offences and penalties are set out in Part 2 Division 5 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011(WHS Act).

Key duties and responsibilities

Notifying the regulator

As an officer you must ensure clear and effective reporting processes are implemented that enable the person conducting business or undertaking (PCBU) to comply with their duty to immediately notify Comcare of notifiable incidents.

This includes ensuring workers are aware of:

  • the need for them to report incidents according to internal policies and procedures
  • the PCBU’s obligations to ‘immediately’ notify the regulator of deaths, serious injuries and illnesses, and certain dangerous incidents that arise out of work or in relation to a workplace
  • the obligation of the person with management or control of the workplace to preserve the incident site and not disturb it until a Comcare inspector attends the site or advises otherwise.

For more information, see our Guide to Work Health and Safety Incident Notification (PDF, 134.3 KB).

Consulting and communicating

A safe workplace is more easily achieved when everyone involved in the work communicates with each other to identify hazards and risks, talks about psychological and physical health and safety concerns, and works together to find solutions. This includes cooperation between duty holders, the people who manage or control the work and those who carry out the work or who are affected by the work.

Consultation is a legal requirement under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and is an essential part of managing work health and safety.

As a senior manager or executive your commitment to promoting open lines of communication between managers and workers is important in achieving effective consultation about psychological and physical health and safety across the organisation.

As an officer you have a duty under the WHS Act to exercise due diligence to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, your organisation has and implements processes for consulting, when required, with:

  • workers who carry out work and who are, or are likely to be, directly affected by health and safety matters
  • health and safety representatives
  • all other persons who have a duty in relation to the same matter for which your organisation has a duty. This could include designers, manufacturers, suppliers and installers of plant, structures, and substances at the workplace.

For more information refer to the approved Work Health and Safety Consultation, Cooperation and Coordination Code of Practice 2015.

Supporting work health and safety entry permit holders

The WHS Act allows for union officials who have completed an approved training course to apply for a work health and safety entry permit.

Work health and safety entry permit holders are entitled to enter workplaces and exercise certain rights, including to inspect things and talk to workers, while at the workplace.

A person must not without reasonable excuse:

  • refuse or unduly delay a permit holder's entry to a workplace under the WHS Act
  • intentionally and unreasonably obstruct them from exercising any rights under the WHS Act.

Similarly, a WHS permit holder exercising their rights must not intentionally and unreasonably delay, hinder or obstruct any person or disrupt any work at a workplace, or otherwise act in an improper manner.

For more information refer to our Work Health and Safety Entry Permit Holders guidance.

Responsibilities for rehabilitation and return to work

Senior managers or executives have responsibilities under the Safety Rehabilitation Compensation Act 1988 to support the recovery at, or return to work, of employees with a work-related injury or illness. This may include:

  • ensuring your organisation complies with the Guidelines for Rehabilitation Authorities Instrument 2019 (PDF, 247.1 KB)
  • showing visible commitment to implementing your organisation’s rehabilitation policy effectively
  • promoting a workplace culture that prevents injuries and supports injured employees
  • supporting your rehabilitation case managers to perform their duties
  • monitoring your organisation’s return to work performance and addressing any issues
  • improving your organisation’s return to work strategies.

For more information about the responsibilities of the rehabilitation authority (usually the employer), see:

Return to Work video and factsheet

As an employer, you have an important role and responsibility to support employees with an injury or illness to safely recover at and return to work.

This video explains the benefits of supporting your employees to safely return to work, the importance of responding early to injuries and illness, your responsibilities as an employer and how you can effectively lead your organisation's return to work approach.

Watch the full video  - Recovery and return to work for employers
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.

You can also watch scene by scene.

Watch Employer rehabilitation responsibilities
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.
Watch Good work is good for us all
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.
Watch Supporting employees to return to work
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.

For more information about recovery and return to work read the Supporting recovery and return to work factsheet for employers (PDF, 292.6 KB).

Practical strategies

Promoting wellbeing and intervening early

Prevention and early intervention is timely action to minimise the impact and duration of emerging symptoms of work-related ill health or actual injury or illness. As a senior manager or executive you can:

  • promote a clear policy and guidelines for early intervention
  • ensure middle managers and supervisors can identify early warning signs and put early intervention into practice
  • provide training and resources to support middle managers, supervisors and rehabilitation case managers to carry out their duties in prevention and early intervention
  • hold other managers accountable for people management outcomes and establish clear expectations through performance management frameworks and workplace agreements
  • monitor the health of the organisation to identify and manage risk of ill health
  • communicate relevant data to managers and supervisors so they can respond to high risk areas.
  • support flexible options for return to work
  • set up appropriate service agreements with external providers based on agency needs. This includes employee and manager assistance programs, mediation, training and development, and approved workplace rehabilitation providers
  • work with Comcare to facilitate early determination of claims and return to work.

For more information, see our early intervention checklist.

Building a strong health and safety culture

A strong health and safety culture can support a stable workforce, promote low absenteeism and help reduce compensation costs.

Strategies include:

1. Focus on improvement

Complying with legislative requirements is a great foundation but it does not lead to performance improvement alone. Encourage innovation in health and safety and share successes across the organisation.

2. Engage employees in a collaborative conversation

Providing employees with an understanding of work practices and/or the need for change can lead to significantly better work health and safety outcomes.

3. Improve work health and safety skills

Education around health and safety should cover:

  • business strategy
  • change management
  • influencing
  • safe working behaviour
  • technical work health and safety components.

4. Upgrade data quality and availability

This will enable insightful decision-making at strategic and operational levels.

5. Create learning forums for business leaders

These forums should focus on health and safety strategy and topics such as:

  • safe behaviour
  • culture change
  • change management
  • innovation and transformation.

6. Support technology development

Implement new technologies that can effectively reduce and eliminate risks and hazards within the workplace.

7. More research funding

Support research to understand best practice and how these practices might best be applied in the Australian context.

9. Get health and safety right

Managing your workplace health and safety well can help improve the overall performance of the organisation.

For more information, see our Workplace Health and Safety Management system guidance.

Effective leadership style

Specific qualities and behaviours that signal management commitment to a good health and safety culture include:

Trust

Trust between management and workers is important for many organisational variables such as quality of communication, performance and co-operation.

Communication style

Frequent and informal communication on safety issues between workers and management is critical. It shows a manager’s concern for safety and provides opportunities for early recognition of hazards.

Involvement

Management involvement in safety programs is associated with good safety performance. This includes making a personal contribution to work health and safety consultation and frequent contact between workers, management and supervisors.

Inclusive management

Management styles characterised by openness and encouragement of worker participation are likely to be the most effective in promoting a positive safety culture.

People work more safely when they are involved in the decision-making process, have specific and reasonable responsibilities and have immediate feedback about their work.

Decentralised control

Greater decentralisation of work organisation and task structure can provide better health and safety outcomes.

Investment in work health and safety promotion

Better health promotion and work health and safety programs can improve worker health and protect against workplace injury.

It has also been found to improve perception of organisational commitment and build worker loyalty. This may be because it is seen by workers as evidence of management’s concern for their wellbeing.

Supporting workers during times of change

Workplace change can be challenging, and if not managed well can affect morale and engagement. Consequences may include:

  • reduced work performance
  • increased absenteeism
  • psychological or other injuries.

During times of workplace change it is important to consider the mental health and wellbeing of workers as part of an integrated approach to risk management and corporate planning. This includes workers who are away as a result of injury or illness or taking part in a rehabilitation program.

For more information refer to our guidance on how managers can support worker mental health.

Training courses and learning programs can help improve your understanding of work health and safety as well as rights and responsibilities.

For more information, see the training and learning offered by Comcare.

Training for senior managers

We provide training through our learning management system called Comcare LMS.

To access our training, you first need to create an account in Comcare LMS (see the steps to create an account). Then, select the training item that you are interested in and login with your email and password.

For more information about the training we offer, see Training and learning.

Page last reviewed: 23 September 2022
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Comcare
GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 03 Oct 2022

https://www.comcare.gov.au/roles/senior-managers