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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 under section 28 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act).

While at work, you must:

  • take reasonable care for your own psychological and physical health and safety; and
  • take reasonable care that your actions or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons.

What is ‘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 themself out to be able to undertake that work.

For example, reasonable care for any worker includes:

  • asking a supervisor if they are not sure how to safely perform their work
  • participating in safety training
  • wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) they are given
  • reporting hazards or work practices they feel may be unsafe.

Reasonable care for a worker who is a supervisor or manager would include:

  • providing instruction and training to their staff about operational procedures and working safely
  • preventing their staff from working in an unsafe manner, such as without appropriate PPE
  • acting on reports of hazards or unsafe work practices
  • reinforcing and influencing safety behaviours in the workplace.

As a worker, you also have duties to:

  • comply, so far as you are reasonably able, with any reasonable instructions that you are given to allow the person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) to comply with their duties under the WHS Act; and
  • co-operate with reasonable policies or procedures relating to health or safety at the workplace that have been notified to you.

Complying and cooperating with reasonable policies, procedures and instructions includes:

  • 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
  • wearing PPE as instructed.


A worker 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.

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 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.

Return to Work video and factsheet

This video provides information on the return to work process.  It explains the importance of a safe, timely and lasting return to work, the role of your employer and other support people in your recovery and includes tips to help your recovery and return to work.

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

You can also watch scene by scene.

Watch Good work is good for you
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.
Watch The return to work process
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.
Watch Tips for recovery and return to work
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.
Watch Your return to work team
This video includes captions, which you can turn on and off.

For more information read the Your recovery and return to work factsheet (PDF 286.2KB)

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: 23 September 2022

GPO Box 9905, Canberra, ACT 2601
1300 366 979 |

Date printed 19 May 2024