General duties relating to health and safety: Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004

This guidance explains Part 3 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, general duties relating to health and safety. The guidance will benefit employers, employees, designers, manufacturers, suppliers and others with workplace duties.

The concept of ensuring health and safety

Part 3 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) places general occupational health and safety (OHS) duties on employers, the self-employed, employees, designers, manufacturers, suppliers and other duty holders.

These general OHS duties require a duty holder to protect health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable. The duty holder must:

  • eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • reduce risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risks

Reasonably practicable

To decide what is 'reasonably practicable' the duty holder must do what a reasonable person would do, using 'reasonably practicable' measures.

Before deciding what is reasonably practicable, duty holders must take into account:

  • the likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring – that is, the probability of a person being exposed to harm
  • the degree of harm that would result if the hazard or risk occurred
  • what the person concerned knows or ought reasonably know about the hazard or risk and any ways of eliminating or reducing that hazard or risk
  • the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk
  • the cost of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk

Information about WorkSafe's position on reasonably practicable is available on the WorkSafe website.

Main duties of employers

Duties of employees

Employees are employed under a verbal or written contract of employment or a contract of training. This includes direct employees, managers or supervisors, placements through group training and apprentices.

Those engaged by an employer who controls a workplace are also employees, including:

  • an independent contractor, for example, a bricklayer on a construction site
  • an employee of the contractor, for example, the bricklayer's labourer
  • a sub-contractor of the contractor
  • a person a labour hire or recruitment agency has provided, such as a process worker, order picker in a warehouse, temporary receptionist or an agency nurse

Volunteers are not considered employees, even if they receive out-of-pocket expenses.

Duties of those who manage or control workplaces

A person who manages or controls a workplace, sometimes known as 'the occupier', can include an employer, the building or site owner and the property management or tenant of a building or site where there is a workplace.

People who have management or control of a workplace must ensure as far as is reasonably practicable that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health. They must take every reasonable action and work proactively to ensure health and safety in the workplace.

If you are an employer, you have additional OHS duties to ensure the workplace is safe and without risk to those your business activities could affect.

Duties of designers of plant

So far as is reasonably practicable, a person who designs plant for use in a workplace must:

  • ensure the plant is designed to be safe and without risks to health if used for a purpose for which it was designed
  • carry out or arrange for any testing and examination needed to ensure the plant design is safe and without risks to health if used for its intended purpose
  • identify all hazards associated with the plant’s use during the design phase and provide adequate information to any person they give the design to use

A designer of plant must also provide specific information to the manufacturer of the plant. If the manufacturer advises there are safety issues with the design, the designer must revise the information to resolve the problems. If the designer considers that it is not necessary to revise the information, the designer must write to the manufacturer with reasons why the revision is unnecessary.

Duties of designers of buildings and structures

Designers of workplace buildings and structures have responsibilities under the OHS Act. Designers must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the building or structure they design is safe and without risks to the health of those using it as a workplace for its intended purpose.

Duties of manufacturers of plant and substances

The OHS Act places responsibilities on the manufacturers of plant or substances used in a workplace. Manufacturers must ensure the plant or substance is safe and without risks to health when used for its intended purpose. They must test or arrange tests and examinations which ensure the plant or substance is safe and without risks to health when used for its intended purpose.

Manufacturers must give each person they supply with any plant or substance:

  • information about the intended purposes of the plant or substance
  • the results of tests for the plant or substance
  • information about any conditions necessary to ensure that when used for their intended purpose the plant or substance are safe and without risks to health

Manufacturers must, on request, also provide the information to any person who uses or will use the plant or substance.

Duties of suppliers of plant and substances

Suppliers of any plant or substance for use at a workplace have OHS Act responsibilities. They must ensure the plant or substance is safe and without risks to health when used for the purpose for which it was designed, manufactured or supplied.

Suppliers must give every person they supply with any plant or substance:

  • information about the intended purposes of the plant or substance
  • information about any conditions for the safe use of the plant or substance

Suppliers must, on request, also provide the information to any person who uses or will use the plant or substance.

Duties of people installing, erecting or commissioning plant

The OHS Act also places responsibilities on people who install, erect or commission plant for use at a workplace. Those people must ensure nothing about the way in which the plant is installed, erected or commissioned makes it unsafe to use or a risk to health.

Duty not to recklessly endanger people at workplaces

It is an offence, without lawful excuse, to recklessly engage in conduct that exposes, or may expose, a person at a workplace to the risk of serious injury.