The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the Act) assigns duties to organisations and individuals. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (the Regulation) provides addition information about how to meet the duties outlined in the Act.

What is the primary duty?

As an organisation, the University is required to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all workers (e.g. employees, research students, students on placement, contractors, volunteers and affiliates), as well as anyone else involved in University activities (e.g. coursework students and visitors). This primary duty of care relates to both physical and psychological safety.

What is reasonably practicable?

The qualifier ‘so far as reasonably practicable’ means that organisations are not required to guarantee that no harm will occur, but do whatever reasonably can be done to ensure health and safety. The consideration of what is reasonably practicable takes account of a range of factors including:

  • The likelihood of a hazard or risk occurring
  • The degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk
  • What the people concerned know, or ought reasonable know, about the hazard and way of eliminating or minimising the risk
  • The availability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk
  • The cost associated with ways of eliminating or minimizing the risk.

Individual duty holders

To make sure the University’s primary duty is met, the Act places duties on a number of individuals. Noncompliance with these duties can result in criminal sanctions and civil penalties.

Generally speaking, an Officer is a person who has decision making influence over the whole organisation or a substantial part of it. Officers are required to exercise ‘due diligence’ to ensure that the University complies with its duties under the Act. Within the Act, due diligence is defined as taking reasonable steps to:

  • Acquire and keep up-to-date knowledge of work health and safety matters
  • Understand the nature of the operations and associated risks
  • Ensure appropriate resources and processes are provide to manage work health and safety
  • Ensure that systems are in place to receive and consider information about hazards, incidents and risks and respond in a timely way
  • Verify that the organisation has implemented processes to meet its duties under the Act.

It is important to note that the definition of ‘workers’ is broader than ‘employees’, it encompassing any persons performing work for or on behalf of the University. University workers include:

  • Research students
  • Contractors
  • Volunteers
  • Affiliates
  • Student on work placements

Workers must take ‘reasonable care’ for themselves and others, comply with reasonable instructions and cooperate with the University’s policies and procedures. Workers who direct or supervise the work of other workers have additional responsibilities. The responsibilities of workers at different levels of our organisation are outlined in the University’s Work Health and Safety Policy.

Coursework students and visitors must also take ‘reasonable care’ for themselves and others and comply with reasonable instructions of the University. The University’s expectations of students and others is also outlined in the University’s Work Health and Safety Policy.

Codes of Practice

A code of practice provides detailed information on how you can achieve the standards required under the work health and safety legislation. They do not replace the legislation, but codes of practice can be issued to help make understanding what you have to do a little easier. When determining what is reasonably practicable, the court may regard a code of practice as evidence of what is known about a hazard, risk or control.

It is recognised that equivalent or better ways of achieving the required work health and safety outcomes may be possible. For that reason compliance with codes of practice is not mandatory providing that any other method used provides an equivalent or higher standard of work health and safety than suggested by the code of practice.

Visit the SafeWork NSW website for a full list of Codes of Practice.

Associated legislation

See the government's legislation database for a more comprehensive list of NSW Acts and Regulations.