Occupational health and safety – your legal duties

An overview of employer and employee responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.


Employer health and safety duties

A safe work environment

For your employees, you must provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and free of risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable. As part of this you must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • Provide and maintain safe plant (machinery and equipment).
  • Provide and maintain safe systems of work - for example, controlling entry to high-risk areas and providing systems to prevent falls from heights.
  • Ensure the safe use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances.
  • Keep workplaces that you manage and control in a safe condition, free of risks to health (for example, ensure fire exits aren’t blocked, and the worksite is generally tidy).
  • Provide suitable facilities for welfare at any workplace you manage and control.
  • Give your employees the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

How do you know what's reasonably practicable?

The law requires employers to eliminate risks so far as is reasonably practicable. To decide what is reasonably practicable, you must consider:

  • the likelihood of the hazard or risk occurring
  • the harm that would result from the hazard or risk
  • what a person knows (or should know) about the hazard or risk, and ways to eliminate or reduce it
  • availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or reduce the hazard or risk
  • cost of eliminating or reducing the hazard or risk

Incident notification

Report to WorkSafe all notifiable incidents that happen in a workplace under your management and control.

Other employer duties

  • Monitor your employees’ health (for example, provide hearing tests if they are exposed to high noise levels).
  • Monitor conditions at the workplace under your management and control.
  • Give your employees information about workplace health and safety in appropriate languages.
  • Keep information and records relating to health and safety of your employees.
  • Employ or engage people suitably qualified in OHS to advise you on employees’ health and safety.
  • Consult employees on matters that may directly affect their health, safety and welfare.
  • Ensure that the conduct of your business does not endanger other people (including visitors, the public and other workers).

You have additional specific obligations if your business involves: 

  • manufacture, importation, transportation, supply, storage, handling or use of dangerous goods
  • design, manufacture, importation, supply, erection or installation of plant
  • manufacture, importation or supply of substances

You also may have obligations to meet particular licensing, registration and certification requirements.

Who's an employer?

If you have one or more employees, you are an employer. An employer can be a:

  • person 
  • company 
  • partnership, unincorporated association, franchising operation, or not-for-profit organisation

Employee health and safety duties

  • Take reasonable care for your health and safety in the workplace. You must also take reasonable care for the health and safety of others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do.
  • Cooperate with your employer about any action they take to comply with the OHS Act or Regulations. For example, use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures and attend training.
  • Don’t intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything at the workplace to support health, safety and welfare.

Who's an employee?

You are an employee if you have a contract of employment or contract of training. Volunteers are not employees. Independent contractors may be employees.