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Understanding duty of care…

Many people do not realize that refusing or failing to observe company safety rules and safety procedures or instructions from their supervisor is, in fact, breaking the law.

People don’t appreciate that, as an employee, they have certain legal obligations with regard to their own safety and the safety of other people in their workplace.

A failure to recognize and meet these legal obligations can result in:

  • injury or harm to yourself;
  • injury or harm to other people; and
  • you being prosecuted.

Occupational safety legislation operates in the same fashion as other aspects of the law. Ignorance of the law is no defense for committing an offense.

For this reason it is important that you recognize and understand what your responsibilities are under the Duty of Care.

Today we will discuss:

  • the employee’s duties;
  • the employer’s duties; and
  • the consequences of not meeting your responsibilities.


Duty of Care refers to the legal duties that employees and employers have to one another to provide and maintain a safe place of work for everyone.

One way of understanding how the duties of employer and employee fit together is to imagine the Duty of Care to be like a coin.

A coin can only have value when it has two sides.  If you take one side away from the coin, you will no longer have a valuable commodity, just a lump of metal.

The same is true with the Duty of Care.  Achieving a safe place of work requires both the employer and the employee to meet their respective duties.

For example, an employer is required, under the Duty of Care, to provide employees with adequate Personal Protective Equipment.  Employees are required, under the Duty of Care, to correctly use and maintain the provided Personal Protective Equipment.

If both parties meet their duty to one another then the likelihood of accidents are reduced and the workplace is made safer.  However, if either party does not meet its duty to the other, this cannot be achieved.

As we look at the duties of the employer and the employees in more detail, you will begin to see how the example of the coin makes sense.


As an employee you have a general duty to:

  • ensure your own safety and health at work; and
  • avoid adversely affecting the safety and health of any other person through any act or omission.

The term “act” means doing something that puts people at risk.

The term “omission” means by not doing something, you would put people at risk.

However, as an employee, you have some other more specific duties.

You must follow instructions given by the employer for your safety or the safety of other people.  This means:

  • obeying company safety rules;
  • following safety procedures; and
  • following work instructions given by your Supervisor.

You must correctly use personal protective clothing and equipment that has been provided by the employer. This means:

  • wearing the correct type of Personal Protective Equipment for the work you are doing; and
  • wearing the equipment correctly.

You must not misuse or deliberately damage any equipment provided in the interest of safety and health. This means you must not:

  • interfere or tamper with fire fighting equipment;
  • interfere or tamper with first aid equipment and facilities;
  • obstruct or deface safety signs; or
  • remove machinery safety guards without permission.

You must report hazards that you are unable correct yourself.  This means that you should remove or correct any hazards that you identify in the workplace, providing:

  • you know how to safely do so; and
  • your own safety is not unnecessarily endangered.

You must report any injury or harm to health. This means that you must:

  • report all injuries no matter how minor; and
  • report the symptoms of any disease or illness that could be associated with work.

You must co-operate with your employer to allow them to carry out their Duty of Care. This means working actively with the employer to improve workplace safety and health.


The employer has a general duty to provide a workplace where employees are not unnecessarily exposed to hazards.

Employers must provide and maintain safe workplaces, plant and systems of work.  This means employers must ensure:

  • the layout of the workplace is safe;
  • the storage and handling of all materials is safe;
  • the location and movement of people and mobile equipment can be carried out safely.

The employer must also provide employees with adequate information, instructions, training and supervision so they can perform their work safely. This means the employer must:

  • alert employees to hazards by providing warning signs, posters, booklets and other written materials;
  • provide each employee with the relevant task and safety training required to do their job safely;
  • instruct employees on how work and tasks are to be performed safely; and
  • supervise employees to ensure safety and health rules, procedures and instructions are being followed.

The employer must consult and co-operate with elected safety and health representatives with regard to safety and health matters in the workplace. This is aimed at getting employees and employers working together with the common goal of improving safety and health standards in the workplace.

The employer must provide employees with adequate Personal Protective Equipment where certain hazards cannot be totally avoided. The means the employer must:

  • provide the correct type of Personal Protective Equipment for the type of hazard; and
  • train the employees in how to select, wear, and use the Personal Protective Equipment.

The employer must ensure the safe use of plant and substances in the workplace. This means the employer must ensure employees are not exposed to hazards from anything to do with:

  • the transportation, storage, handling, use, cleaning, maintenance or disposal of plant; and
  • the transportation, storage, handling, use, cleaning, maintenance or disposal of substances.

The term “plant” means all machinery, equipment, vehicles, appliances and tools used to perform work.

The term “substances” means any natural or artificial solid, gas, liquid or vapour in the workplace.

The employer must report all accidents involving fatal or major injuries to the relevant State Government Safety Inspector.

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