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WHS Duties and the Primary Duty of Care

A PCBU is one of the duty holders identified in WHS law. All WHS duty holders have mandatory duties to carry out and expectations to meet as described in the WHS Act 2011 and WHS Regulation 2017.

The PCBU is the duty holder that has the “primary duty of care” to provide for and look after the needs of their employees and others in their workplace so that they are safe from injury and the risk of injury at work. This in fact is a paraphrase of the PCBU’s primary duty of care, which is described clearly in Section 19 of the WHS Act.

The PCBU is the only duty holder who has the “primary duty of care”. If the other duty holders in a workplace do not comply with, and carry out and their duties, then the objectives of the primary duty of care will not be achieved.

Officers of the PCBU also have duties. In a WHS context, Officers of the PCBU have a duty to ensure the PCBU is meeting its primary duty of care, and their specific duties are stated in Section 27 of the WHS Act.

Workers also have duties. In WHS law, the term workers means that all employees are workers so that includes managers, supervisors, and team leaders, and workers in general, but the term does also include contractors and others listed in section 7 of the WHS Act.

Workers have duties such as taking reasonable care of the health and safety of themselves and others; complying with any reasonable instruction; and cooperating with any reasonable policy or procedure provided by the PCBU.

Section 29 - Duties of other persons at the workplace.

Anyone in the workplace who is not the PCBU, an Officer, or a Worker under the WHS Act is regarded as an other person. Under Section 29 of the WHS Act, an other person has the same duties as a worker except for duty (d) above.

The ultimate responsibility for health and safety in the workplace lies with the PCBU. The PCBU must satisfy its primary duty of care and Officers, Workers, and other persons must satisfy their duties as a duty holder in their workplace.

Workers and other persons must be supervised and managed as needed by Managers such as team leaders and supervisors who do so as representatives of the PCBU to forward the Work Health and Safety management system that the PCBU has in place to forward its primary duty of care.

If the WHS management system needs to be reviewed, changed or created newly, the PCBU is expected to consult with its workforce before instigating changes. The PCBU has a duty to consult workers who might be affected by any proposed changes and to get feedback and contributions on the proposals. This process is covered in Sections 46-49 of the WHS Act.


You can learn more about this subject on Courtenell’s, WHS Responsibilities for Managers Course and the WHS Law for Officers & Senior Managers Course. These courses are short, to-the-point courses suitable for busy executives and management people and are delivered on site, at your workplace.

WHS Duties and the Primary Duty of Care
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20th October 2020


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