Health and safety for businesses and organisations 

What are my health and safety obligations as an employer (or other type of PCBU)?

As an employer you are the PCBU for your workplace. This means you are responsible for ensuring, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the workers (employees, contactors, sub-contractors and volunteers) while they are doing work for the business or undertaking, and for the health and safety of others who come into your workplace.

This includes:

  • providing a work environment that does not put workers’ health or safety at risk;
  • providing safe systems of work;
  • providing the training or supervision necessary to protect people in the workplace (including workers who are carrying out work off-site);
  • monitoring the health of workers and workplace conditions to protect them from illness or injury;
  • maintaining any worker accommodation so that the worker is not at risk.

Back to top

What should I be doing to “manage the risks” for my business?

The type of risks you’re dealing with will depend on the type of work you do. Your first step is to identify those risks. You can visit the WorkSafe website for information to help you identify health and safety risks in your workplace, and how to manage these risks. This includes guidance on industry specific risks and a list of “risk hot spots” that are most relevant to different industries (as well as suggestions for dealing with them).

Once you have identified risks you need to do what is “reasonably practicable” to eliminate or (where they can’t be eliminated) minimise those risks. You should monitor any measures you put in place to make sure they’re effective, and review your work activities on an on-going basis to identify any new risks that might need to be dealt with.

Back to top

How do I know whether my business is considered to be in a high risk industry, and what does this mean if it is?

In the high-risk sectors there is increased risk of serious harm and death from the type of work carried out, so there are additional health and safety requirements to comply with (as set out in the regulations).

If your business is a high risk industry then you are required to have a health and safety representative if a worker asks for one. You also have to consider establishing a health and safety committee if requested by five or more workers or by a health and safety representative.

According to the Health and Safety at Work (Worker Engagement, Participation, and Representation) Regulations 2016, the high-risk industries are:

Forestry and logging  
Fishing, hunting, and trapping
Coal mining
Food product manufacturing
Water supply, sewerage, and drainage services
Waste collection, treatment, and disposal services
Building construction
Heavy and civil engineering construction
Construction services

There are exceptions within these industries, for example onshore-aquaculture, mushroom gathering, buffalo hunting and curtain installation.

You can visit the WorkSafe website to find information specific to a particular industry.

Back to top

Can I get help with health and safety policies for my business?

There is a range of tools available to help you develop your own health and safety policies and procedures. The WorkSafe website has downloadable templates and good practice guidelines for writing health and safety documents for your workplace, which include links to various common types of health and safety documents.

You could also choose to pay for the services of a health and safety consultant who can help you develop policies and procedures tailored to your workplace. As with any service you are paying for, it is important to shop around.

If you do pay for someone to come into your workplace to help review and improve your health and safety practices, remember that the duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act still apply to you. You can’t pass responsibility to the consultant or contract out of your duties.

Back to top

I have my own business but have no employees. Do the health and safety laws apply to me?

Yes they do. Your obligations include ensuring your own health and safety as well as that of any contractors you hire, and any clients or other people who visit your workplace.

Back to top

I’ve heard I can go to jail if someone has an accident at my workplace. Is this true?

It is possible for any person who has a duty under health and safety law to be penalised for failing in their responsibilities. This includes the PCBU itself, the officers of the PCBU (company directors, board members, chief executive, senior management), the workers, and even visitors or clients that come into the workplace.

There is a range of penalties, including large fines and - in the most serious cases where reckless conduct puts someone at risk of death or serious illness or injury - a prison sentence.

Note that certain people cannot be prosecuted for failing to meet their health and safety duties:

  • Officers who are volunteers (though a volunteer can still be prosecuted in their capacity as a worker or as an ‘other person in the workplace’) 
  • Members of local boards, community boards and councils elected or appointed under the Local Electoral Act 2001
  • Trustees of school boards appointed or elected under the Education Act 1989.

Back to top

I rent premises for my business. What responsibility does my landlord have for dealing with health and safety issues?

If you rent your business premises then your landlord will also be a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) for your workplace (in addition to yourself as the business owner).

This means that your landlord also has a duty of care, so far as is reasonably practicable, to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved with or affected by work on or at the property. For example they have to make sure the entry and exit to the workplace aren't a risk to health and safety and that any fixtures, fittings and plant under their control do not put any person's health and safety at risk.

Where there is more than one PCBU for a workplace, the PCBUs must consult and cooperate with each other in health and safety matters - to avoid unnecessary duplication, prevent gaps in managing health and safety risks, and clarify each PCBU’s duties and responsibilities.

Back to top

As a PCBU of a workplace, am I liable if someone breaks into the premises to steal stuff, and hurts themselves in the process?

You are not responsible for the health and safety of any person who is at your workplace for an unlawful purpose (e.g. a burglar).

Back to top

What if my business can’t financially afford to do work that would get rid of a health and safety problem?

As a PCBU, your duty is to ensure health and safety “so far as is reasonably practicable”. Whether a particular health and safety measure is reasonably practicable will depend on:

  • how likely a particular hazard or risk is to occur;
  • how severe is any harm that might result from the hazard or risk;
  • what is known about the risk and the ways to eliminate or minimise it;
  • how available and suitable any measures are.

After you’ve considered these factors you can then consider the issue of cost.

The question of what you can afford is not directly relevant. Instead it’s about whether the cost of taking a particular measure to eliminate or minimise the risk is grossly disproportionate to the risk itself. If this is the case you might not have to take that particular measure but you will most likely still need to consider what other reasonable options you have to eliminate or minimise the risk.

Back to top

Do we have to cancel our Friday after-work drinks because they’re too "risky"?

WorkSafe (the government’s main health and safety regulator) has said that the Health and Safety at Work Act is not intended to stop workplaces from having social activities.

After-work drinks are not generally covered by the Act but if your business supplies alcohol for an after work function, then you need to be a responsible host and make sure alcohol is consumed responsibly and that there are plans for people to get home safely.