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Employees and other workers

For: Claimants Employers and managers Information seekers

Workers play an important role in helping keep the workplace safe and setting the workplace health and safety standards.

The role of workers explained

Definition of a worker

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act), a worker includes any person who works, in any capacity, in or as part of the business or undertaking.

You are a worker under health and safety legislation if you are an:

  • employee
  • independent contractor or subcontractor (or their employee)
  • employee of a labour hire company
  • outworker, such as a home-based worker
  • apprentice or trainee
  • a student gaining work experience
  • volunteer.

Duties of a worker

As a worker, you have duties and responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

Duties and responsibilities include:

  • taking reasonable care for your own health and safety
  • taking reasonable care that your actions or omissions do not harm the health and safety of others
  • reporting any hazards or work practices you feel may be unsafe
  • complying with any reasonable instruction, policy or procedure relating to health and safety in the workplace, such as
    • follow safety manuals and procedures
    • participate in safety training
    • wear personal protective equipment
    • exercise a level of care and responsibility in your work
  • reinforcing and influencing safety behaviours in your workplace
  • working with management to identify safety problems and find solutions
  • understanding and following internal incident reporting processes
  • acting upon health and safety matters where you have control or influence
  • working with colleagues to promote health and safety so that it becomes a part of your daily work
  • contributing to quality data and information which measures health and safety compliance over time – this can be used to identify trends and target preventative actions and improvements.

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


If you do not follow the required procedures, you could face non-compliances under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

This may include penalties such as criminal prosecution, fines and jail sentences.

Practical strategies

Communicating and consulting effectively

Importance of communication and consultation

Communication and consultation is vital to building a strong health and safety culture and minimising injury and illness in the workplace.

This process involves:

  • talking about issues
  • listening to and raising concerns
  • understanding your role
  • seeking information and sharing views
  • discussing issues in a timely manner
  • considering what is being said before decisions are made
  • attending scheduled meetings.

Contributing to consultation as a worker

You can contribute by:

  • speaking at team meetings
  • talking with your work group
  • giving feedback on policy and procedures when asked.

Participation in consultation provides you with an opportunity to:

  • think constructively about health and safety issues that affect you
  • contribute ideas for improvement
  • work as a team in implementing good workplace safety practices.

When you should be consulted

The ‘person conducting business or undertaking’ (PCBU) is required to consult with you on any matters that may directly affect your health and safety. If you are a HSR or represented by a HSR, then you or your HSR, must also be included in the consultation.

There are number of situations when your manager and senior leaders are required to consult with you. They include:

  • identifying hazards and assessing risks arising from work
  • making decisions about ways to eliminate or minimise those risks
  • making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for the welfare of workers
  • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of workers
  • making decisions about the procedures for resolving health and safety issues
  • monitoring the health of workers or workplace conditions, information and training or consultation with workers
  • carrying out any other activity prescribed by the WHS Regulations.

When the PCBU consults with you on a health and safety issue, you need to consider the information provided and give feedback through your HSR.

Barriers to effective consultation

There are many barriers to how we communicate and consult with each other in the workplace. Finding the right time and delivering messages in the right way can be a challenge. Workers and HSRs should establish a relationship with their manager that encourages open and honest discussion and mutual trust.

Consultation often fails due to:

  • lack of clarity of message
  • absence of emotional resonance in your message
  • inaccurate targeting
  • poor timing
  • no genuine feedback process.

Improving and promoting communication

To ensure that communication is effective in your workplace, you should use all the available and established channels to provide your ideas and concerns about health and safety.

Ways to contribute to effective communication include:

  • contribute at meetings
  • seek information from your intranet
  • use emails to clarify, and provide a two-way communication approach
  • establish an open and constructive approach to talking to your colleagues and managers
  • consider the barriers to communication in remote and isolated work locations (e.g shift work, working on your own, isolated by distance or team support, working from home)
  • make contact daily where possible.

Talking to your health and safety representative (HSR)

Your health and safety representative (HSR) is your main point of contact regarding health and safety matters, so inform them of any concerns or safety issues you may have. HSRs represent workers in relation to health and safety matters affecting workers.

Having your HSR represent your work group can help because:

  • a HSR is likely to understand your views and concerns
  • HSRs can be trained in work health and safety and in how to represent you
  • a coordinated and formal approach to raising ideas and concerns with your ‘person conducting business or undertaking’ (PCBU) can have greater impact
  • HSRs have rights and powers to take action on your behalf.

Right to cease unsafe work

You may cease, or refuse to carry out, any work that you believe poses a serious risk to your health or safety. This is your right and responsibility as a worker.

If you cease or refuse to carry out any work for this reason, you must notify the relevant ‘person conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBU) as soon as possible.

A PCBU can redirect you to carry out suitable alternative work at the same or another workplace. The suitable alternative work must be safe and appropriate for you until you can resume normal duties.

Informing us of a WHS concern

If you are a worker, you can inform us of a work health and safety (WHS) concern or contact us if you have a WHS enquiry. Email whs.help@comcare.gov.au or call us on 1300 366 979.

Workers are encouraged to speak with their employer or health and safety representative (HSR) about their concern in the first instance, if comfortable to do so. This ensures that the employer is aware of the work health and safety concern and provides them with an opportunity to resolve the issue.

After you contact us, we will respond to you within five business days. We will advise you of actions that can be taken and will also let you know if there is another agency or support you can contact.

If you are unable to speak with your employer or HSR, or do not believe that reasonable efforts are being made to resolve the issue, Comcare may assist in facilitating a resolution.

Rehabilitation and return to work

If you sustain a work-related injury or illness, you should:

  • find out about your organisation’s rehabilitation policy
  • let your supervisor or rehabilitation case manager know if you are going to be away from work for an extended period because of your work-related injury
  • undergo an assessment for rehabilitation if required
  • talk to your rehabilitation case manager about your obligations and rights regarding rehabilitation
  • participate in your rehabilitation program
  • talk to your rehabilitation case manager or rehabilitation provider if you have any concerns about your return to work plan.

See Roles in the claims process, which provides more information on the role of employees in claims.

For more information on the claims process, see Make a workers' compensation claim.

Training for workers

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: 26 November 2020
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GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 | www.comcare.gov.au

Date printed 29 Jun 2022