New WHS Act – Health and Safety Duties

In our previous update we provided you with a brief introduction to the new Work Health and Safety Act 2020 (WHS Act) and its aims. This week we want to give you an overview of the health and safety duties of a “Person Conducting a Business Undertaking” (PCBU) under the WHS Act.  

Let’s get started with some general principles…

GENERAL PRINCIPLES (sections 13-17)

The WHS act specifies work health and safety duties for PCBUs, officers, unincorporated associations, government departments and public corporations workers, and other people at a workplace.

Whom does WHS Act Cover?

The WHS Act covers: 

  • people who conduct work in any capacity for a PCBU including employees, contractors, subcontractors, self-employed persons, outworkers, apprentices and trainees, work experience students and volunteers who conduct work. 
  • other people at a workplace like visitors and customers at a workplace.  

Can a person have more than one duty? Yes, for example the working Director of a company has duties as an officer of the company AND also as a worker. 

Can a duty have more than on person responsible for it? Yes, consider a labour hire company who hires out its employees to ‘host employers’ to carry out work for them. The labour hire company and the ‘host employer’ owe a duty of care to those employees. Note that it is not possible to ‘contract out’ work health and safety duties.   

PRIMARY DUTY OF CARE (sections 19-28)

This primary duty of care requires duty holders to ensure health and safety by eliminating risks. If the elimination of the risks is not reasonably practicable, then the PCBU needs to minimise the risks where possible.The WHS Act requires all PCBUs to ensure the health and safety of:

  • workers engaged, or caused to be engaged by the PCBU, and
  • workers whose activities are influenced or directed by the PBCU when conducting them while at work in the business or undertaking.

PCBUs owe a similar duty of care to other people who may be at risk from work conducted by the business or undertaking. Self-employed persons must ensure their own health and safety while at work, as far as is reasonably practicable.


What does this mean? It means that where duty holders have shared responsibilities, the WHS Act requires duty holders to work together though consultation, cooperation, and coordination to ensure someone does what is needed.   

*Disclaimer: Please note this communication is provided for general information purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice, only a Legal Practicing Professional can provide legal advice.