Employers – your responsibilities
In Western Australia, the law requires employers to provide a high standard of safety and health at their workplaces and ensure, as far as practicable, that employees are not injured or harmed because of their work.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to provide and maintain, as far as practicable, a safe working environment for your workers, under Section 19(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 (OSH Act). This is called the employer’s ‘duty of care’. This includes:
- providing and maintaining workplaces, plant and systems of work so your workers are not exposed to hazards;
- providing information about any hazards and risks from the work;
- providing instruction, training (including an induction) and supervision to all employees so are able to work safely;
- consulting and co-operating with safety and health representatives (if any) and all employees about safety and health;
- where it is not practicable to avoid the presence of hazards, providing adequate personal protective clothing and equipment without any cost to workers; and
- ensuring safety and health in relation to plant and hazardous substances so workers are not exposed to hazards.
You must also ensure that the safety and health of people who are not your workers (ie non-employees) is not affected by the work, a hazard or the system of work. This duty, under section 21 of the OSH Act, applies where there are visitors, volunteers, work experience students or any other people at the workplace.
As an employer, you also have a responsibility to inform all your employees about:
- how to resolve any complaints or concerns about safety and health at work;
- what to do in an emergency;
- what to do if they are injured; and
- their rights to workers’ compensation if they are injured.
Under the OSH Act, as an employer, you have other duties. You must:
- when a safety and health issue arises where there are different opinions, attempt to resolve it according to the relevant (issue resolution) procedure (Section 24 of the OSH Act);
- report certain types of injuries and diseases and deaths arising in connection with work to WorkSafe (Section 23I of the OSH Act);
- hold an election for safety and health representative or set up a safety and health committee where workers request their establishment – where this occurs, you must follow the requirements in the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. You may also set these up on your own initiative.
Where you receive a report from an employee about hazards or any injury or harm to health, you must within reasonable time after receiving the report:
- investigate the matter and determine the action, if any, to be taken; and
- notify the employee about what was decided.
More information on your general ‘duty of care’ can be found in the guidance note, General duty of care in Western Australian workplaces.
You will also have to meet specific requirements under the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 in relation to particular hazards, work activities, plant, registrations and licences and the working environment. For more information, you could refer to these regulations or search for information on specific hazards or safety topics on this website.
Meaning of ‘practicable’
This applies to general duties for employers, self-employed people, people with control of workplaces, designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers, erectors and installers. These people are expected to take measures that are practicable.
‘Practicable’ has a particular meaning in the OSH Act. The definition can be found in section 3(1) (with other definitions) and is explained in more detail below.
If something is practicable, it is ‘reasonably practicable’, taking into account the following factors ie:
- the severity of any injury or harm to health that may occur;
- the degree of risk (or likelihood) of that injury or harm occurring;
- how much is known about the risk of injury or harm, and the ways of reducing, eliminating or controlling the risk; and
- the availability, suitability and cost of the safeguards.
In other words, to be practicable, something must not only be capable of being done, it must also be reasonable in light of the factors mentioned above. The risk and severity of injury must be weighed up against the overall cost and feasibility of the safeguards needed to remove the risk.
Each of the above factor is considered in light of what a reasonable person in the position of the duty holder would have known.
More information on the meaning of practicable and how examples of how it applies can be found in the guidance note, General duty of care in Western Australian workplaces.
Part of the employer’s ‘duty of care’ includes providing employees with instruction, training and supervision so you are able to work safely. This must include a general induction and a job specific induction.
A job specific induction must provide information and training on:
- the hazards associated with each task and the safety measures in place;
- safe systems of work or work procedures for each task, for example safe work procedures for manual tasks and working with hazardous substances;
- safe use of machinery that will be used, for example the need to keep guarding in place and maintenance requirements;
- where required, chemical safety including the safe use and storage of substances, material safety data sheets (MSDS), personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE), first aid and location of safety showers and eye baths;
- safe movement around the workplace such as areas where pedestrians are restricted as there is movement of vehicles; and
- where required, the use, care and maintenance of PPE.
A general induction to the workplace safety and health arrangements must be provided and include information and training on:
- the workplace facilities including the lunchroom, toilet and, where required, wash down facilities;
- the emergency procedures;
- the first aid facilities and first aid officer;
- the procedures for reporting injuries and hazards;
- the roles of different staff for safety and health at the workplace;
- the procedures for resolution of safety and health issues;
- relevant workplace policies such as, for example alcohol and other drugs and workplace bullying; and
- the workers’ compensation procedures.
WorkSafe provides a range of checklists that can be used for inductions. These include an induction checklist for new and young workers and checklists for contract workers and work experience students.
These checklists may be adapted to include relevant workplace issues. For example, an induction for an employee at a warehouse or retail workplace may need a greater level of induction on manual tasks, as many injuries can arise with this type of work.
Providing a good safety and health induction can influence employees’ attitudes towards safety and health by providing a good first impression of its importance at the workplace.
The law in Western Australia requires the employer to take into account the individual needs of employees to ensure they are able to work safely. This means the employer must consider the appropriate format for your safety and health training, instruction and information so you are best able to understand them.
For example, for workers from a migrant or non-English speaking background, the information, instruction and training may need to be provided in other languages so workers can fully understand what is required.
Personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE)
Where it is not practicable to avoid the presence of hazards, your employer has a duty to provide adequate personal protective clothing and equipment (PPE) without any cost to you. This applies whether you are an employee at the workplace or a labour hire employee.
Examples of PPE are:
- safety boots;
- dust masks; and
- safety glasses.
If you require PPE different to what is being provided by your employer, for example prescription safety glasses instead of over glasses or brand name safety boots, consult your employer about who will pay the difference in cost.
Where your employer has provided you with PPE, they must inform you on:
- when it is to be used;
- how it is to be used; and
- how to maintain it.
Where your employer has directed you to use PPE, you must:
- use the PPE according to the employer’s instructions – ask for assistance if you do not understand;
- not misuse or damage the PPE; and
- when you notice the PPE is damaged, not working or dirty, report this to the appropriate person at the workplace.
PPE is often used in conjunction with other control measures, and should not be the only way of controlling a hazard. Ask your employer if you are not clear about all the controls in place to eliminate or minimise a hazard.
Encouraging commitment to safety and health at the workplace
As an employer, there are different ways you can encourage workers to assist in ensuring safety and health at your workplace. For example, you can do this by:
- demonstrating, through your leadership and supervision, that good safety and health practices are a priority. For example, make it clear to all levels of staff that safety and health must not be compromised by the need to ‘get the job done’ – you could make safety and health a performance measure;
- having all levels of staff involved in training, planning, setting objectives, evaluating and reviewing organisational performance;
- giving workers and contractors the authority and the resources to achieve the safety objectives set for them;
- giving everyone safety and health duties. However, it is not sufficient to tell someone they are accountable, without setting up the processes for this to work properly;
- encouraging workers to speak up and ask questions about any safety and health instructions that they do not understand;
- establishing safety and health representatives and/or a safety and health committee at the workplace; and/or
- making safety and health a standing agenda item at workplace meetings.
Every worker will have some responsibility for safety and health at the workplace, even if it is simply to meet the employees' ‘duty of care’ under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. The workplace processes should include checks to ensure these responsibilities are understood and taken seriously.
You could also look at establishing a formal safety and health management system so you have some confidence that all aspects of it are being addressed at your workplace. Refer to the WorkSafe Plan information and workbook, which provides information and examples on desirable safety and health management practices, including management commitment, and how to identify strengths and weaknesses in your workplace’s management of safety and health.
You could look at the process for applying for a WorkSafe Plan certificate of achievement or use the information and workbook for ideas on how to implement a workplace safety and health management system and improve your workplace’s safety and health performance.
Reviews and determinations
The WorkSafe Western Australia Commissioner can review Improvement Notices, Prohibition Notices and Provisional Improvement Notices and grant exemptions to specified Occupational Safety and Health Regulations.
More information on:
Some matters arising under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 and the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations 1996 may be referred to the Occupational Safety and Health Tribunal for a determination.
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