Ensure - One of the Most Important Words in WHS
Weekly WHS Article 3rd February 2022
You may not be surprised to know that the word “ensure” is an important and
significant word in WHS law. It is used 38 times in the WHS Act and has a major role
in making safe and healthy workplaces.
What does the word ‘ensure’ mean in a legal context?
‘Ensure’ is not defined in the WHS Act because it is recognised that it is used in the
ordinary meaning of the word. As covered in a legal action before the NSW Industrial
Commission (ref 1), the word 'ensure' is used in the ordinary meaning of the word,
guaranteeing, securing or making certain.
In a separate court case regarding ensuring the safety of others the Judge stated
that, the “obligation cast on relevant persons to ‘ensure’ the safety of others is
indeed strict and necessarily of a high standard” (ref 2).
Examples of the word ‘ensure’ in the WHS Act
Section17 of the WHS Act says that;
“A duty imposed on a person to ensure health and safety requires the person—
(a) to eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable, and
(b) if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks to health and safety, to
minimise those risks so far as is reasonably practicable.”
‘Ensure’ is often teamed up in the WHS Act with ‘must’, and the result is ‘must
Section 19 of the WHS Act says that a person conducting a business or undertaking
must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of workers.
So, the actions that the employer takes to satisfy section 19 must ensure
(guarantee, secure and make certain) so far as is reasonably practicable, the
health and safety of the workers. Any actions that are not strict and of high
standards could result in an accident that injures one or more workers.
The examples above cover just 2 of the 38 times that the word ‘ensure’ is used in the
WHS Act. How about the other 36 times? Some of them may not be applicable to
your workplace but most of them probably do apply.
You would probably feel very comfortable if you knew for certain that your workplace
does comply with every section of the WHS Act that does apply to your workplace.
1. Carrington Slipways Pty Ltd v Callaghan (1985)11 IR 467 at 469
2. McMillan, Brittan & Kell Pty Ltd v WorkCover Authority of NSW (1999) 89IR 464 at 480
3rd February 2022